Running Time: 102 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (mild sexual references, mild nudity, mild violence and coarse language)
This is a good, modest film. It has particular interest for Catholic audiences with its theme of orphans in an institution during the 1960s. However, it is positive in its outlook and in its presentation of nuns and clergy.
It is an Australian film, based on a novel by Michael Noonan, a memoir of growing up in a remote orphanage in the desert and a wonderful holiday at the sea for four of the boys. They are the December Boys, because they are the orphans who have a December birthday. And they are the lucky ones who benefit from a gift of a couple for some of the boys to go to their place for the summer holidays and celebrate Christmas.
The story is told in voiceover by the now old Misty, the central boy, who is about ten at the time of the holiday. The boy is played by Lee Cormie, completely convincing. Two of the other boys are eleven or twelve (nicknames Spit and Spark) and there is an older boy, about sixteen, Maps. Curious audiences may want to see the film because Maps is played by Daniel Radcliffe during the break between Harry Potter four and five. He acquits himself well, Australian accent and all. While there are, of course, some Harry Potter reminders, he makes this role his own.
Basically, the film is about friendship, about boys who play together, are mischievous together, but who long to be adopted and experience parental and family love. The opportunity rises during the holiday and the three youngest try their best to be good in order to be chosen. Maps does not want to be adopted.
A young couple who worked in a carnival cannot have children and the boys bond with them.
Maps encounters a young girl who is visiting and has a secret hideaway cave in a cliff. So, this is also a rites of passage story for Maps and his discovery of sexuality and relationships. The meeting has a profound effect on him, bewildering him, especially as he realises the transient nature of so many relationships. However, he is still leader for the boys and has to risk his life in the water when Misty gets into difficulties.
This is even more interesting in view of the information given by the old friends meeting again at the cove decades later about what Maps did with his life.
The old couple (Jack Thompson and Kris McQuade) have a naval background and like things ship-shape. They are also devout. They offer a great Christmas surprise: Father will turn up for confessions! And there is a funny scene where Misty goes to Confession in a gradually hotter and hotter car. Father is a friendly and decent figure. The glimpses of the nuns indicate strictness but not harshness.
The other glimpse is of the Blessed Virgin. There are images of here and she appears in Misty's imagination. He is a pious boy. However, there is also an apparition, brief and understated, when the two boys are in difficulties in the sea.
This is a well-written script that most audiences would enjoy, a visit to the past which had its difficulties but was not traumatic. Rather, the holiday had a wonderful effect on the boys and bonded them even more closely.
Roadshow/Dendy Out September 20
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.