This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, May 2015
This real-life story is noble by name and unashamedly noble by nature. It’s the biopic of Christine Noble, a plucky Irishwoman who pulled herself out of a poverty-stricken childhood and abusive marriage, to find herself travelling to Ho Chi Minh City in 1989 on a personal mission to work with street children.
One doesn’t mean to be sneery about such a calling. Noble has worked tirelessly with exploited and impoverished Vietnamese children for several decades, and doubtless changed countless more lives than just her own.
The trouble is, the telling of this noble tale is nothing short of Heavy-Handed. All the tropes are present and accounted for: the Loving but Alcoholic Father. The Harrowing Injustice meted out by Social Services (Catholic, obviously – because you can’t have a 1950s Irish tragedy without a gaggle of evil nuns). The Longing to Escape; the Jump from Frying Pan into Fire. It’s little wonder that when the real Christina landed in Vietnam on that fateful day, she was more than ready to focus on the pain of others.
Such a story warrants the gentle touch and respect garnered by the book from which it is adapted. Noble’s story is not just worthy but potentially very moving. Thanks to the casting of local children and adults, shot on location in Vietnam, we’re given a very real sense of the world into which she stepped, and the perils that we know children face to this day.
Thus, the film’s main problem is its unnecessary lack of subtlety. Writer-director Stephen Bradley directs his wife Deidre O’Kane as Noble, and it is O’Kane’s brash personification which simultaneously heralds the protagonist as a humanitarian heroine and lashes her to the train-tracks of critical disdain. O’Kane’s performance often lapses into drama school audition, undermining the inherent heft of her character’s good intentions and enormous achievement. But if you can see through the bombast to the message, you may find yourself charmed.