Directed by Aisling Walsh, starring Aidan Quinn, Iain Glen, Dudley Sutton, Marc Warren, Claus Bue, Alan Devlin, Stuart Graham, John Travers, Chris Newman, Simone Bendix.
Based on Patrick Galvin's memoir, 'Song for a Raggy Boy' is set in the grey, grim surroundings of a brutal Irish reform school in 1939. While the storyline has unmistakable parallels with 'The Magdalene Sisters', it deserves more than to be dismissed as this year's indictment of religious orders.
As the film opens, William Franklin (Quinn) has just been appointed as the only lay teacher at St Jude's. This central character's outsider status lets the audience see the enclosed world of the reformatory school through his eyes - and it's not a pretty sight. The Christian Brothers, particularly the prefect in charge of discipline, Brother John (Glen), use verbal and physical abuse to control and terrorise the children, dehumanising them further by refusing to use their names and calling them by their identification numbers.
Franklin, who fought against Franco's fascists in the Spanish Civil War, is opposed to the blind violence meted out to the boys. In his classes he tries to instil a love of poetry and learning in his students, but soon makes an enemy of Brother John when he interferes in a beating that he is giving new pupil Patrick Delaney (Newman). A defeated man when he arrives at St Jude's, haunted by memories of his fellow communists and the wife he lost in Spain, Franklin gradually awakens to the boys' plight and battles against Brother John to save these already damaged children from more harm.
Although the cast of boys was drawn more from boxing clubs than drama schools, their performances are remarkable, in particular Chris Newman and John Travers who plays the tragic Liam Mercier. Brooding widower William Franklin is a step up for Aidan Quinn from his last Irish role in the mawkish 'Evelyn' and Ian Glen's portrayal of the heartless disciplinarian is chilling.
Director Aisling Walsh does not shy away from portraying the physicality of violence - there are moments of sheer brutality and a particularly harrowing scene of sexual abuse at the hands of one of the Brothers - but a happy ending, lifted straight from 'Dead Poets Society', is unworthy of what's gone before.
It's a tough film to watch but 'Song for a Raggy Boy' is a timely and important reminder of the tortures that thousands of Irish children suffered in similar institutions, pointing the finger not only at the perpetrators of violence but at those who facilitated it by their silence.