The Butcher Boy (1997)

This adaptation of Patrick McCabe's novel of junior psychosis is among Neil Jordan's most successfully-achieved films. Set in an Irish small town in 1962, and imbued with a Cuba Missile Crisis anxiety via clips from The Brain From Planet Arous and the TV series The Fugitive, the film is narrated by Francie Brady, a twelve-year-old terror played marvellously by young Eamonn Owen with Stephen Rea (who also plays his drunken father) as his grown-up voice and (at the end) incarnation. An irrepressible rascal on the Just William model, Francie is also an obsessive and fantasist - he has visions of bug-headed aliens and the Virgin Mary (Sinead O'Connor) - whose sense of childhood betrayal leads him to murder Mrs Nugent (Fiona Shaw), the mother of his estranged best friend whom he blames for all the ills imagined and genuine of his young life. Told from inside a warped viewpoint, this is a remarkably humane work, deeply understanding of the disturbed but surprisingly cheerful child but also keenly aware of the horrors - the murder is committed with an abattoir's pig-killing bolt-gun - he inflicts on those around him.

First published in this form here.

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