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Seven-year-old Liam (Anthony Burrows) is the youngest member of a tight-knit Liverpudlian family. His dad (Ian Hart) has a decent job as a welder on the docks, and his mam (Claire Hackett) runs the household with tender authority. They are not wealthy but life has a certain sweetness. Now, however, the Depression of the 1930s is beginning close in. Dad loses his job, and Liamís older brother Con (David Hart) becomes the main family breadwinner complimented by the earnings of his sister Teresa (Megan Burns) who is being employed by a well-off Jewish family. Ironically the father of that household is the owner of the shipyard where Liamís dad lost his job. Dad is finding it hard to accept the increasing financial struggles of his family and his loss of dignity. Gradually the racist jingoism of the fascist Black Shirts and it throws Liam and his family into a downward spiral, sucks the family into the world of dangerous xenophobia, and a terrible final act.

For a film that looks like another grim and depressing journey "up north" between the wars, Liam is surprisingly entertaining. Jimmy McGovern's script creates a vivid picture of 30s Liverpool as witnessed through the innocent eyes of Liam, whose difficulty in speaking without a stammer makes him an almost silent observer of seismic shifts that affect his life and a community devastated by unemployment. We first meet Liam cheekily peering through the window of the local pub. It is a happy time in a loving family environment as friends return to the Sullivan house to see in a new year that will bring the depression to the family's door. It also brings hellfire to Liam, who has just discovered the opposite sex and is surrounded by Catholic priests and schoolteachers preaching the dreadful costs of sin and how "absolutely filthy" souls can be washed clean only by taking Holy Communion. The influence of religion is one of the film's strongest themes as Liam's father, his dignity lost along with his job, stands up in church and screams that "Jesus Christ has got us skint". In stark contrast Liam's sister Teresa enters the employ of a wealthy Jewish family whose generosity helps put food on the table of a man who blames their kind for the mess his country is in. Witness to everything is Liam, who has an irrepressible optimism and good fortune that lifts this out of the gloom and who will be present as the tragic consequences of his father's fascist leanings unfold. It's an extraordinary performance by young Anthony Burrows. There are touches of Ken Loach, John Boorman's Hope and Glory and Terence Davies in this beautifully crafted slice of life directed by the multi-gifted Stephen Frears who can hop from High Fidelity to this with the same conviction and ability to make all his characters down to bit parts memorable. Made for the BBC, Liam transcends its telemovie origins (it was selected for Venice last year) and emerges as a small cinematic gem.
Richard Kuipers

This isnít the first film of recent times to take us down the tenebrous, penury-stricken lanes of Britain during the Depression. Here Liverpool is the locale, and the portrayal is perhaps the most grim and melancholy of its genre. The achievement of director, Stephen Frears, has been to unravel the story and capture the unhappy milieu in a manner that keeps us enthralled. The atmosphere isnít only bleak, itís intriguing. Which is partly because a seven-year-old is our eyes and ears. Although this is not really a coming-of-age story, we are afforded Liamís perspective. The world is opening up its complexities and harsh realities to a delicate and innocent sensibility. Treasured family values are suddenly undermined, supposedly omniscient adults begin to contradict each other and religion is rammed into the soul via a heavy dose of fear mongering. Hellfire becomes an increasingly significant symbol as the familyís fortunes hurtle downwards. Soon there are flames in every frame: braziers in the streets, the farrierís ironwork; and the incessant sermonising of schoolmistress and priestóall fiery foreshadowing of tragedy to come. Bravura performances from Anne Reid and Russell Dixon as the sanctimonious preachers of faith compliment an impressive central cast. Anthony Burrows is perfect as Liam, his cherubic face distorting wretchedly with his nervous stammer. Megan Burns and Claire Hackett invest their characters with layers of sensitivity, and while Ian Hart seems a trifle young as the father, his descent into bigotryófuelled by a desperate need for scapegoats to justify what he finds incomprehensibleóis credible and sadly reflective of history. The message is simple and potent. Whatever the travesties dealt out by fate, abandoning basic human values only serves to destroy the precious elements of life that hold the real key to salvation.
Brad Green

Liam - no, it's not a biopic of the bratty Beatles wannabe from Oasis. It's a sombre BBC-funded drama that looks at the grit and determination of a family - seen through the eyes of a child - in poverty-stricken Liverpool, circa 1930. Sound suspiciously like Angela's Ashes? Or Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy? Or even (in a later period) Billy Elliot? So what is it about poverty-stricken Brit families that make for such engaging dramas? Well, times were tough. All sorts of politics hit the homefront - economic, racial, religious, and sexual, and most of these films have explored these issues in detail. Liam is mostly concerned with the religious and sexual side of things. Liam's sister is sent to clean for a wealthy Jewish family and becomes a participant in her employer's adulterous affair. When Liam accidentally sees his mother naked, he's confused by the discrepancy he had seen in Old Master nudes in school art books. The proud working class, the immigrant Irish and Jews, the juvenile sexual curiosity and Catholic fire and brimstone - they all feed into the heady world we see through Liam's innocent eyes. Jimmy McGovern (creator of such no-nonsense UK television shows like Cracker and The Lakes) has written a script very much in the vain of Terence Davies, Ken Loach, or Mike Leigh, and director Stephen Frears - worlds away from his American art-house hits in High Fidelity and The Grifters - handles it beautifully. He makes every detail achingly real; you can almost see the starch in Ian Hart's shirt and you sure can smell the cabbage boiling on the stove. Frears really is a craftsman of film. He gets resonant performances from the seasoned professional in Hart to first time youngsters in Burrows and Burns. McGovern's script does, at times, feel a little like a history lesson, and I for one found the xenophobic violence infuriating - which I guess means it worked. Liam is manipulative, pulling the old rope-a-dope by lulling us into a false sense of security (happy family) before pulling the rug from under our feet (violence). It is dark, laden with misery, and ultimately depressing, but it is worth a look.
Shannon J. Harvey

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CAST: Ian Hart, Claire Hackett, Anthony Borrows, David Hart, Megan Burns

DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears

PRODUCER: Colin McKeown, Martin Tempia

SCRIPT: Jimmy McGovern


EDITOR: Kristina Hetherington

MUSIC: John Murphy


RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 12, 2001 (Syd/ Adel/ Brisb/ Per/ Melb Aug 9)

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