Andrew Legge tells us how the critics are failing us.
The Choirboy opens in Luton with Khalid Hashemi, a taxi driver and strict Muslim, beating his sensitive twelve-year-old son Ahmed with a vacuum cleaner handle. His wife jumps in front of the boy in protest as their older son Mohammed slinks out to the local Islamic youth club.
Ahmed’s life changes forever when he meets Mr Wilkinson, master of the Christian Choral Society. Wilkinson shows Ahmed’s class a video of his choir. Ahmed, transfixed by the haunting voices, auditions with Wilkinson, moving the old man to tears. He joins the choir, concealing it from his father Khalid. His voice blossoms and Wilkinson selects him to sing a duet alongside Ahmed’s new friend Rob Griffith in St Paul’s cathedral.
Rob’s father, a BNP candidate, finds out about Ahmed. He confronts Khalid with a mob of skinheads. Khalid, more enraged by his son’s disobedience than the yobs, storms into the rehearsal room, wrenches Ahmed from his seat and beats the child across the head with a crucifix. Meanwhile, his brother Mohammed joins a radical Islamic group and plans a bomb attack on London, coincidentally to take place on the day the boys are to sing.
Later, as they are leaving for London, Ahmed escapes back to the choir. Khalid chases after in his taxi. The climax of the film takes place in St Paul’s. As Mohammed straps semtex around his torso and chants verses from the Koran, Ahmed prepares for his biggest moment ever. The film ends with the police shooting Mohammed while Ahmed and Rob sing before a packed audience including Griffith and Khalid, both men moved to tears.
The Choirboy took me ten minutes to make up with its stock characters and clichéd themes. Wheel out the usual suspects: Pete Postlethwaite as Wilkinson, Dame Judi Dench as a grumpy but warm-hearted patron of the choir, Ben Kingsley as Griffith and Anthony Hopkins as a police chief with Bill Nighy thrown in as his incompetent assistant for comic relief. ‘Discover’ a genuine Muslim kid in some ghastly Bradford estate. Add a mishmash Eastern-meets-Baroque score and we have a bafta wetdream. It’s so simple it directs itself. Show the Dame the above synopsis and the director can skip the shoot and meet the cast at the BAFTAs.
The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.