Cathy Butler is impressed by Stephen Bradley’s emotive and engaging film, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
A film like this is difficult to review, being a fact-based story about an extraordinary person, whose actions have greatly improved the lives of young children in dire circumstances. It is difficult to separate the film as a work from the real-life woman it portrays. While in some ways flawed, Noble is an emotive and engaging account of how one Irish woman found herself coming to the aid of impoverished children on the other side of the world.
Directed by Stephen Bradley, the film focuses on the tumultuous life of the eponymous Christina Noble, born into poverty in Dublin in the 1950s, eventually being taken into care after her mother’s death due to the negligence of her alcoholic father. Her difficult childhood, her experience of homelessness and assault as a young adult, and the eventual breakdown of her marriage force Christina to become not embittered but resourceful. After having a dream of war-torn Vietnam, Christina decides that the country holds her fate, and pledges to one day travel there. When eventually she does, she finds herself up against various obstacles – both native and foreign – in her attempts to help the impoverished children she finds there.
The scenes of Christina’s childhood juxtaposed with her arrival in Vietnam as an adult make quite a clear parallel between the poverty of 1950s Dublin and that of 1980s Vietnam; that these two countries have at different times suffered from third-world conditions. It bridges the geographical gap between the two regions, and goes some way to accounting for how Noble identified with the Vietnamese situation.
Narratively the film is somewhat black and white, and has a tendency to oversimplify. The heroes and villains lack in ambiguity, being either the good guys or the bad guys with little in between. Some major plot points don’t seem to receive adequate attention for their significance, such as Noble’s experience of sexual assault, her relationship with her children, or the collapse of her marriage. Perhaps if more of an insight had been given into the effect these events had on Christina, rather than them being just items on a long list of hardships, it may have been easier to engage more with her character. Deirdre O’Kane does a fine job presenting Noble’s endless resourcefulness and boundless strength of character, but there is still some amount of distance between the audience and the character.
Whatever the film’s shortcomings, the film packs a fairly hefty emotional punch. Noble’s determination and profound love for the children she is trying to help come through with great clarity, which is ultimately the film’s triumph. Christina, both the film’s character and the woman that inspired the story, is clearly someone to be reckoned with.