Agnes Browne

             An adaptation of the popular 1994 Irish novel The Mammy by Brendan
     O'Carroll,
AGNES BROWNE confirms that Anjelica Huston is as gifted a
     director as she is an actress. While her thespian career may have gotten
     off to a shaky start under her father John's hand in
A WALK WITH LOVE
     AND DEATH
in 1969, she proved her mettle (and picked up a Best
     Supporting Actress Oscar) as the Mafia princess Maerose Prizzi in her father's
     PRIZZI'S HONOR. No stranger to Ireland, Ms. Huston was raised there        
     and she demonstrated her facility with the brogue in John Huston's swan
     song, the elegiac and beautifully realized
THE DEAD, adapted from a
     James Joyce story. It would seem almost inevitable that Anjelica would
     move behind the camera to direct and her first effort, the controversial
     telefilm
BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA demonstrated her capabilities.
     But the landscape of Hollywood is littered with the single efforts of many
     actors turned directors. In Ms. Huston's case, it was merely a preamble to
     this warm and sentimental (and that's meant as a positive) portrait of a
     widow struggling to raise her brood of seven in 1960s Dublin.

             Anjelica Huston was originally only going to direct the film but when
     the lead actress became unavailable, she gamely stepped into the leading
     role. After watching the film, it's impossible to think of any other actress
     in the part. Most of her previous films have required her to display her
     considerable dramatic abilities (think of
THE GRIFTERS, for example) but
     Ms. Huston has also proven a slyly comic performer as well (
THE WITCHES).
     The title role in
AGNES BROWNE allowed her to be both and she has risen
     to the occasion.

             Agnes is clearly a survivor, despite all the hardships. When her
     husband dies suddenly and she's left to cope with her brood (six boys and
     one girl ranging in age from two to 14), she is forced to borrow money from
     the local loan shark (an appropriately menacing Ray Winstone) in order
     to pay for his funeral. Agnes struggles to earn a living by selling produce
     at Dublin's Market Street and is shored up by her best friend Marion (a
     terrific Marion O'Dwyer in her film debut). The women joke, trade quips
     and dare to dream about such seemingly unattainable things as learning
     how to drive a car or attending a concert performed by a popular singer
     (Tom Jones replacing the novel's Cliff Richard). Further complicating her
     life is a French baker (Arno Chevrier) who offers a chance at romance.

             Ms. Huston directs with a sure hand, capturing the small comic
     moments in life (i.e., Agnes trying to explain the bodily changes of puberty
     to her oldest son) to the more dramatic one germane to the story (e.g.,
     her clash with Winstone's loan shark, an unexpected illness). She also
     has a terrific ability with actors, whether they are the children (particularly
     the older ones played by Niall O'Shea and Ciaran Owens) or adults
     (Winstone, Chevrier). Her own central performance as Agnes is a towering
     creation that ranks among her best work. Ms. Huston also is generous
     enough to share the screen with her costars, especially with Marion O'Dwyer,
     who nearly steals the film. Her portrayal of Marion Monks is so spot-on one
     is tempted to think that she is not even acting. There is a natural warmth
     and chemistry between the two women and one easily accepts that these
     two people have been longtime friends.

             AGNES BROWNE is a beautifully rendered and evocative portrait of a
     spirited woman that also showcases the considerable talents of its
     director-star and should not be missed.

                                         Rating:         A -
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.