Noble (2014) – Film Review

Thanks to Eclipse Pictures for the advanced screening

The true story of Christina Noble, who suffered neglect, abuse and rape through her formative years in Ireland and England only to make a better life for herself and others in Vietnam.

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Sitting comfortably between Philomena and Angela’s Ashes, “Noble” is the true story of poverty stricken, Catholic dominated Ireland where a young girl grows into womanhood despite the neglect of her family and the nefarious influence of Nuns.

While the narrative is not completely linear it does begin with her childhood. Director Stephen Bradley (Sweety Barrett, Boy Eats Girl) then inter-cuts the rest of the film switching between adult Christina’s story of her first trip to Vietnam in the 1989 with the rest of her teens and twenties.

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The youngest Christina is played, in a stunning debut, by Gloria Cramer Curtis displaying cockiness and compassion in equal measure as her life takes unfortunate turns. Liam Cunningham is totally convincing as her wasteful and drunken father. Sarah Greene deftly takes up Christina’s late-teenage years where the film charts how alone she is in the world with the exception of one friend Joan (the always dependable Ruth Negga). Irish actress and comedian Deirdre O’Kane plays the brash and driven adult Christina as she pursues a vague dream that brings her to Vietnam in 1989.

When O’Kane first appeared in the story it was hard for me to separate her from her funny stand-up career and her comedic turns on Irish television and film. She reminded me too much of simply a more serious version of herself. But after a few inter-cuts with scenes from her youth we are shown what made Christina Noble the adult she becomes in O’Kane’s performance. Perhaps a more linear narrative might have helped.

Poverty stricken Dublin looks suitably filthy: all kudos to the production designers here as their recreations of destitute Dublin, working class London and meltingly hot and seedy Vietnam give the film a wonderful atmosphere (the film was actually shot in The UK and Vietnam).  Though is a gap in the story at the end of Sarah Greene’s London section of the film. We do not see Christina through the years when she reared her children into adulthood and I feel even a glimpse of this would have helped the narrative. Also a little more of the delightful Curtis, the youngest Christina, would have made more of an impact on the story.

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The scenes of awful abuse that Christina endured from her teens in Dublin trough to her twenties in London, mostly in Greene’s section of her life, are in no way ambiguous and still they are handled with a skill which leaves the audience with an emotional residue of her ordeals without being exposed to any explicitly violent visuals. As Bradley seems more interested in getting on with Christina’s story it feels like the Greene was not given the space to indulge the emotional damage that other filmmakers might have capitalised upon.

Throughout her harrowing experiences Christina holds on tightly to her unwavering belief in God. I can see this film being shown for years to older classes in Catholic run and influenced schools.

The time in Vietnam is perhaps the slowest part of the film as not much happens in the first few scenes and perhaps a more linear approach would have helped us to understand what her character had gone through before she arrived in Asia. The pace builds up as Christina slowly carves her own niche and becomes a defender of street children in whom she sees so much of her own upbringing.

Still this is a well-made and ultimately moving tale of the tough life and tenacity of Christina Noble. A lesson that no matter what is thrown at them some people they will keep on fighting. She is a woman whose story deserved to be told. We need more like her.

7/10

Noble is on Irish cinemas on 19th September

Christina Noble Children’s Foundation

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