She flips off the nuns who took her in and educated her, is fond of profanity and wasn’t above a little premarital sex.
It was the “Swinging Sixties,” after all.
By any measure, Christina Noble was not your average heroine of a faith-based film. By any measure, hers was not a life with your average share of suffering.
Noble, the film about her, is a veritable Angela’s Ashes of trials. Christina lost her mother to tuberculosis in 1950s Dublin, was betrayed repeatedly by her abusive-drunk father (Liam Cunningham), homeless more than once, raped and impregnated, her child stripped from her by the Catholic nuns who had once enslaved her to labor in their orphanage. And then there was the bad marriage she endured.
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But through it all, Christina kept her faith, her prayers from childhood (Gloria Cramer Curtis) through adolescence (Sarah Greene) and into adulthood (Deirdre O’Kane) having a hint of bargaining about them, each a fresh challenge to the Almighty.
“I know you’ve got a much better future in store for me.”
That future, in this film told in the 1989 present, with progressive flashbacks detailing her hard upbringing, may be about her dream. Christina could always sing and uses songs, from childhood all through her life, to earn pennies on the street or persuade adults to support her charity. Because what she really wants to do is make better lives for orphans like herself. As an adult, she resolves to set up a compassionate orphanage and hospital for street children cast off in Vietnam.
“An Irish gutter is the same as a Vietnamese gutter,” she tells callous officials in a way that lets them know that “No” is not an answer she’ll submit to.
Writer-director Stephen Bradley, best-known for the clumsy zombie comedy Boy Eats Girl, is unflinching in presenting this film’s harsh Irish reality. Christina is as tough as someone from her background can be, and as earthy.
Veteran Irish character actress O’Kane, best known for Intermission and the TV series Moone Boy, shines as the spirited “Mama Tina,” leaning on Vietnamese bureaucrats, immersing herself in the poverty of Vietnam, browbeating an Irish oil mogul (Brendan Coyle of TV’s Downton Abbey) for support. But all of the Christinas cast here are inspiring.
Bradley only occasionally ladles it on too thick, and doesn’t make clear how Christina went from seeing the horrors of the Vietnam War on TV in the ‘60s to believing setting up orphanages there was her calling 20 years later.
But if American faith-based audiences can plow through the Irish accents and distinctly European sensibility — coarse language and rough situations — “Mama Tina” might be just as nobly inspiring to them as she plainly was to Bradley and the producers of Noble.
Director: Stephen Bradley
Cast: Deirdre O'Kane, Sandra Greene, Brendan Coyle, Liam Cunningham
Rated: PG-13 (mature thematic material, including some violent and sexual situations)
Running time: 100 min.