Mickybo and Me Review
Set in Belfast in 1970, Mickybo and Me takes place during a critical point at the start of the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland, and while the film certainly makes reference to the political events in the North, to a large extent the bombings and shootings refreshingly form little more than the background – but a critical one – to the childhood of the two young boys on different sides of the divide.
Belfast is a divided city we are told at the start of the Mickybo and Me, but to two 10 year old boys living in the never-the-twain-shall-meet communities on either side of the bridge, no such divisions exist. Micky Boyle, otherwise known as ‘Mickybo’ (John Joe McNeill) is just your regular kid who is always up to some kind of mischief – a cheeky wee skitter with a quick tongue and a foul mouth, striving for attention in a large Catholic family from his mother (Julie Walters) and seeking approval from his father (Adrian Dunbar). Johnjo (Niall Wright) on the other hand is an only son who receives a surfeit of attention from his guilt-ridden father (Ciarán Hinds) who is having an affair with the usheress from the local cinema (Susan Lynch), and a mother (Gina McKee) who wants to take him away from the failing marriage. Their circumstances, as well as the unwelcome attention from a couple of ‘big boys’, draw the boys together, and they get themselves involved in all sorts of misadventures and escapades. Their imaginations fired after sneaking into the cinema together to see ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, the boys go off on the run together heading for Australia – Mickeybo armed with a gun he has discovered in the house of a deceased neighbour.
This mainly light-hearted entertainment is certainly a change from what we have come to expect from Northern Ireland drama – which usually involves such clichés as ‘love across the barricades’ scenarios, or glamorous IRA operatives – played by the likes of Stephen Rea, Mickey Rourke or Brad Pitt – who have a crisis of conscience and want to go straight only to discover that ‘you’re never out’. The danger was always there that the childhood 1970’s Belfast setting of Mickybo and Me could fall into that other staple of Irish cinema – the grim miserabilism of an impoverished childhood. Mickybo and Johnjo would tell you differently. In their minds they are daring outlaws, racing across the country holding up banks, making daring getaways, appearing on Wanted posters and prepared to go to the ends of the earth for each other.
The film’s subject matter combined with its sepia-tinted scope cinematography (as well as some countrywide location shooting that will keep the Northern Ireland Tourist Board more than happy), could certainly open Mickybo and Me up to charges of twee sentimentality and a winsome, unrealistic view of childhood. Maybe you’d need to have grown up in Belfast around this time to know that this is actually close to how our childhood really was, but I imagine that a wider audience will certainly identify with the universality of a world seen through the eyes of a couple of youthful and imaginative children seeking escape from their circumstances. Although there is a fine supporting cast who manage not to strike a single false note, it is the two young leads – John Joe McNeill and Niall Wright – who carry the film entirely, convincingly and with a great deal of natural charm. First time director Terry Loane handles the material (from a play by Owen McCafferty) with surprising deftness and lightness of touch, filling the screen with a realistic rather than a nostalgic depiction of 1970’s Belfast (simple touches like a group of men leaning on a wall getting searched by British troops was simply a part of everyday life in Belfast during this period, as were the distant sound of explosions in the night-time), never bringing the period details to the fore except where they have direct relevance.
While it may seem harsh and out of place with the light-hearted, harmless fun that precedes it, the film’s ending is crucial to the film’s point, capturing the sad truth that a political climate which thrives on the divisions in the community will not allow such relationships to prosper – and each atrocity only marks that division further. It’s a situation that persists today in an ever more divided and politically extremist climate. The film’s tough ending underlines the fact the Mickybo and Me is not just about the loss of innocence of two young boys – it’s about the loss of innocence of a whole generation that grew up in Northern Ireland during this period.
Last updated: 15/07/2018 16:44:53