Agnes Browne ( )
WITH a name like Huston, it was perhaps a foregone conclusion that Anjelica, daughter of John, would eventually wander round the back of the camera and make a movie of her own.
Actually, she did that in 1996 with Bastard Out of Carolina. Now, four years on, she has followed up with Agnes Browne, an adaptation of Brendan O’Carroll’s acclaimed Irish novel The Mammy.
What Huston has done, in essence, is create for herself a custom-made starring role in an era in Hollywood history when women over the age of 40 (and, indeed, women who, like Huston, are pushing 50) are thrown the bones of lousy parts in bad movies.
Yet even the mention of Hollywood is doing Agnes Browne a disservice. The movie, taken from a quintessential Irish book, was filmed entirely in Ireland, mostly on location in and around Dublin, by a woman who spent many of her formative years living on the island with her father.
And it shows. Huston revels in the part, while both she and the picture appear utterly convincing as mother hen and the milieu of grey, rainy, cobbled streets and pokey houses.
The story is simple. Mother-of-seven Agnes Browne is left a widow when her husband dies suddenly.
Forced into asking for a loan from vicious money-lender Mr Billy (Ray Winstone in a bad hat and wavering Irish accent) she also rediscovers her womanliness with the aid of a tentative romance with a French baker (!), an honourable hunk of good-natured Gallic beefcake played by Arno Chevrier.
If it sounds faintly preposterous, it is. This is part Cinderella story, part Beaches weepie with a soupcon of Ken Loach thrown in to add a bit of bite.
The humour is obvious and at times cringeworthy, particular the various Malapropisms employed to give the audience a laugh at the expense of the nice-but-dim Irish folk. (“Seven children and not one organism to show for it,” says Agnes’s pal as they discuss lousy husbands and lousier sex).
Yet there is something about Agnes Browne which is endearing, True, it lacks the grime and grit of Angela’s Ashes and the edgy humour of The Commitments, but this is a movie from the heart, made with heart, and none the worse for that.
Huston is perfectly acceptable as Agnes, but the real gems are the performances from Marion O’Dwyer as her pal and Ciaran Owens as her son, Frankie. Throw in a somewhat surreal cameo by Tom Jones (as himself) and this is one quirky little movie which offers more than a few surprises.