Directed by Stephen Frears, starring Anthony Borrows, Ian Hart, Megan Burns and Claire Hackett

Written by Jimmy Burns ('Cracker', 'The Lakes'), 'Liam' sees 'High Fidelity' director Stephen Frears on decidedly sombre territory with an examination of family life in the Liverpool of the 1930's. When his father (Hart) loses his job in the shipyards, seven-year-old Liam Sullivan (Borrows) sees the family move one step closer to an emotional abyss. His devout mother (Hackett) wants the husband to accept money from the Church fund, but he refuses, preferring instead to blame the Irish and Jewish communities for his misfortune. With Liam's First Holy Communion looming large, his sister Teresa (Burns) is forced to deny her Catholic upbringing and take a job with a well-off family. But her role as the Sullivan breadwinner takes on tragic consequences when her father finds solace in the politics of fascism.

'Liam' is a well-worn if sometimes engaging look at the trials of a working class family, which is better suited to the intimacy of television than a cinema outing. Burns' talent as a writer is without question, but his script for Liam seems rooted in the episodic conventions of the small screen and at 87 minutes lacks the time frame to develop both the characters (the mother is little more than an outline) and the issues which form the backdrop to their lives. The only properly fleshed-out plot is Liam's experiences at school where a fire-and-brimstone teacher and overbearing priest have him terrified about his First Confession - the moments of wide-eyed humour providing welcome relief in what is a resolutely downbeat film.

What makes 'Liam' worth seeing is a powerhouse performance from Borrows, his unfussy, wholly credible turn as the schoolboy with a stammer is both humorous and touching without ever playing for the 'aw' factor. Forced to remain silent for most of the film, his capacity for the physical demands of the part put the gurning angst of onscreen father Hart to shame. Images of the youngster will stay with you long after the closing credits, the story however, will not.

Harry Guerin