Drama. Starring Deirdre O’Kane, Sarah Greene, Gloria Cramer Curtis, Liam Cunningham, Brendan Coyle, Mark Huberman, Nhu Quynh Nguyen, David Mumeni, Ruth Negga, Pauline McLynn. Directed by Stephen Bradley. Cert 15A
There are times when a film project which is a labour of love on the part of its makers can become a laborious watch for audiences, with the instigators becoming so consumed by what they want to bring to the screen that they enter a can’t-see-the-wood-for-the-trees zone and forget about all us little folk sitting out there in the dark who have to watch the finished product. It was this desire to get as much as possible into the running time that ultimately scuppered last year’s Nelson Mandela biopic A Long Walk to Freedom but, thankfully, Noble doesn’t suffer such a fate.
The story of Dubliner Christina Noble and how she came to found more than 100 welfare centres and schools for street children across Vietnam and Mongolia is an inspiring one and all the more remarkable considering her own troubled personal background.
Deirdre O’Kane and her husband Stephen Bradley (who wrote the screenplay) clearly have a tremendous admiration for this remarkable woman but, to their great credit, they’ve also kept a serious eye on the overall story to be told rather than getting hung up on too much minutiae.
We begin in 1955 with the young Christina (the remarkable Cramer Curtis) growing up in poverty in Dublin with her mother dying and her alcoholic father (Cunningham) failing to keep the family together. A bright and cheerful child with ambitions to become a singer, she’s eventually taken into the ‘care’ of nuns in Galway, with a harrowing scene involving a Mother Superior (McLynn) hinting at horrors to come.
Fast forward to 1989 and we meet the older Christina (Deirdre O’Kane) arriving in Ho Chi Minh City practically on a whim, chancing her fate to her religious belief that she’s in Vietnam for a purpose that has yet to reveal itself.
Within a week that mission becomes clear as she’s appalled by the circumstances of homeless street children and sets out to improve their lot in life.
While O’Kane’s older Christina ploughs away in Vietnam, the story cleverly cuts back and forth to her as a young woman (played by a terrific Greene) who, on leaving Galway, becomes homeless, sleeps rough, is gang-raped, becomes pregnant and finds herself back with a different order of nuns who promptly give her baby up for adoption without her permission.
Things don’t stop there, as she emigrates to Birmingham and finds herself trapped in an abusive marriage with three small children. What’s remarkable about Noble is that while an awful lot more happened to Christina than is depicted even here, the film resists the urge to pile on the misery. Bradley could have lingered on the Angela’s Ashes/The Magdalene Sisters aspects of the story, but bravely sees the bigger picture without glossing over the terrible hardships his central character suffered.
Getting three actors to play the same character is never easy, but watching O’Kane, Greene and Cramer Curtis on screen you’re never in any doubt that they’re the same person at different stages of her life — a quite remarkable feat in itself.
As indeed is the fact that while it must have had a pretty tight budget, Noble never feels like it’s been done on the cheap and in the end we have a moving, dramatic, harrowing and funny story about a quite remarkable woman. A notable achievement.