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First Look Review - NOBLE

Biopic of Irish humanitarian Christina Noble.

Review by Ren Zelen

Directed by: Stephen Bradley

Starring: Deirdre O'Kane, Sarah Greene, Gloria Cramer Curtis, Liam Cunningham, Brendan Coyle, Nhu Quynh Nguyen, Ruth Negga



"Christina Noble’s tragic, perplexing, and occasionally fantastic personal journey will warm the heart and resonate with audiences who will be heartened to see how one fiercely determined person can overcome what appear to be insurmountable obstacles and actually make a difference."



When in a desperate situation what can one do? Perhaps try and sing a song like Doris Day? Noble, a powerful film based on the true life story of the social campaigner Christina Noble, reveals a shattered life being constantly reconstructed through grit, wit, defiance, and a lovely singing voice, with which she attempts to bring a little spark of joy into a world of despair and poverty. Noble by name, noble in action, Christina’s story is one of victory over every kind of setback imaginable.
Directed by Stephen Bradley, Noble is evocatively set in the Ireland and UK of the 1950s and '60s and in the Vietnam of the late '80s. The film has a non-chronological pattern which flips back and forth from her underprivileged upbringing in the Dublin tenements where, as a feisty young girl and talented singer, she busks around the streets to get enough money to feed her brothers and sisters on chips as their feckless and irredeemably alcoholic father (Liam Cunningham) squanders away his meagre earnings.
Following the death of her patient and loving mother, Christina and her siblings are taken away by the social services from their increasingly squalid life with their shiftless father and placed in separate institutions, beginning years of separation and hardship. Christina ends up in a religious institution of depressing unfeelingness and goes on to suffer homelessness, a brutal sexual attack and the formal abduction of her first child for adoption.
When she emigrates to Birmingham in the UK with her loyal best-friend Joan (Ruth Negga) to start a new life, things seem to be looking up. She meets a charming and energetic young Greek entrepreneur who buys the chip shop where she works. But after their marriage and the birth of her children he becomes increasingly abusive, unfaithful and violent, treating her as no more than a drudge.
One night Christina has a dream about Vietnam and begins to feel compelled to visit this country that she can barely find on a map. She becomes convinced that she has some special purpose to fulfil there. This notion perhaps sits a little oddly in a film so firmly grounded in the realistic portrayal of the grime and toil of an underprivileged life, but perhaps it simply demonstrates that real life can truly sometimes seem stranger than fiction. It is true that even through the most harrowing events of her life, Christina continues to have an ongoing one-sided conversation with God. It is her way of attempting to work out why her life has such difficulties and setbacks and to try and understand what her place and purpose in the world might actually be.
It is a gruelling journey, certainly, but also an inspirational one - as we witness Christina struggle with so many disappointments and trials - but it is impossible not to admire her indomitable spirit in picking herself up and dusting herself off, time after time. Christina's arrival in Ho Chi Minh City is interspersed with flashbacks to the challenging times of her youth. She is in Vietnam with no formal plan or sense of direction, but she discovers that what she wants to do is to help the abandoned Vietnamese street-children – homeless, starving and constantly exposed to disease and danger. Inevitably, she experiences a deep sense of empathy with their plight.
Her early experiences give her the impetus and determination to overcome the indifference and financial obstacles she encounters, as well as the courage to expose the predatory male child-sex-tourists that go as far as to threaten her with violence and destroy her property. She takes on the oil barons, the police and most tellingly the apathy of the general population in order to succeed in her seemingly impossible mission.
Noble is dramatic and moves smoothly through the juxtaposition of Christina’s past and present.  At times the film appears paced almost as economically as a documentary - boldly contrasting events that are dark and disturbing with antithetical moments that are touching and hopeful. Much of the success of the film rests on the engaging performances of the actors - the stand-outs being the three actresses who play the lead role of Christina at different stages of her life: Deirdre O’Kane as the adult, Sarah Greene as the young woman and Gloria Cramer Curtis is delightful as the childhood Noble: a cheeky, shrewd scamp who loves to entertain or comfort others by crooning the songs of Doris Day.
Over the ending credits of the movie, we are treated to some pictures of the real Christina Noble with a text explaining how her work in Vietnam has developed over the years, as her own children came to join her in her efforts.
Director\writer Stephen Bradley presents the movie Noble as a sensitive and well-executed portrayal of an indomitable Irish humanitarian. Bradley attempts to get a grip on Christina Noble’s tragic, perplexing, and occasionally fantastic personal journey and manages to infuse the film with an integrity that will warm the heart and resonate with audiences who will be heartened to see how one fiercely determined person can overcome what appear to be insurmountable obstacles and actually make a difference.



Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved


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