Borstal Boy

Brendan Behan (1923-1964) was a famous Irish author and playwright. Aside from the obligatory short bio right before the credits, Borstal Boy, based on his memoirs of when he was a teenager in an English prison, nobody knows the better. This film gives little insight as to who Behan was or how this experience helped shaped who he was to become. Aside from the fact that Behan himself wrote the memoir, this could be any other movie about some punk kid going to jail and learning better. In this case, Behan (Shawn Hatosy, John Q., Down to You) was probably a little more on the delinquent side; he was a member of the IRA. During a failed bombing mission, he was caught and sent to Borstal prison, mainly because he was too young for a hanging.

Borstal prison feels like a summer camp. The headmaster (Michael York, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, In Search of Peace) places a huge amount of trust in the boys and runs the place with a lax hand. He is more of a father than a warden. Behan hates it there. Amongst other things, he is amidst the English. He quickly begins planning an escape. Time changes him, and he begins befriending some of his fellow inmates. He grows close to Charlie Milwall (Danny Dyer, Mean Machine, Greenfingers), a gay prisoner living in the same barracks. The bulk of the movie is about Behan softening his attitudes towards some of his fellow inmates, or engaging in adolescent braggadocio with others. Liz (Eva Birthistle, Red Rum, Saltwater), the daughter of the headmaster arrives to live with her father, and he has Behan, Milwall, and some of the other prisoners help her build a studio. This means lot of long looks between Hatosy and Birthistle.

This is the directorial debut of Peter Sheridan (The Breakfast) and adapted by Sheridan and Nye Heron (Sax and Violins). As a movie, it is fine, it just lacks anything that differentiates itself from everything else. It has the right look, it has the proper accents and all the required players, just no substance to the story. While there is emotion, everything comes off as a little bland. It actually feels like a mix of two recent movies, Mean Machine and Hart's War. There are a bunch of prisoners plotting to escape, but while they do, they also spend time playing soccer and rugby. For Hatosy, this is the best role so far in his career. Granted, he usually stays around conventional material, so this is in essence his first foray into serious acting, and he does better than what his pedigree would suggest. There is a discernible change in the Behan character from the beginning of the movie to the end. He is less rough around the edges, more caring and compassionate. However, there is no way of telling if he was like this in general or only because he was around his enemies. So while there is a change, there is no context for that change, especially when taking Behan's full life into account.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Not Rated but contains language and some mature situations, an easy PG-13, possibly an R.

Back to Movies