A subtly drawn, painstakingly detailed period piece, "Liam" begins on a comic note with Liam (Anthony Borrows), a stuttering seven-year-old boy, being harangued on the meaning of sin by his teacher and the parish priest, a concept he barely understands. Liam's family is poor bur manages to survive--until his father (Ian Hart) loses his job. That begins a downward spiral that brings him into orbit of the local fascists, who blame the Irish and the Jews for all their problems.
"Liam" touches on many issues, including class warfare, scapegoating, religious exploitation and sexual infidelities, but it never feels like a history lesson. It also avoids potential stereotypes, such as in its portrait of a wealthy Jewish family who employs Liam's sister, Teresa (Megan Burns). Even the Jewish landlord and pawnbroker, who have been forced into the professions open to them, are never simplified. They are not denied their humanity, though the parish priest, who expects tithes from his parishioners, even when they can ill afford them, is cast more as a villain.
Superbly acted by all concerned--newcomer Borrows is a real find--"Liam" builds in mood and intensity until it reaches its powerful, highly poignant climax. Its balancing act of tragedy and humor never falters, and even its melodramatic aspects can be attributed to the way Liam views his world.
Frears made this film for the BBC to support the tradition of high quality drama the network is known for. With "Liam" he has done it--and himself--proud. Starring Ian Hart, Claire Hackett and Anthony Borrows. Directed by Stephen Frears. Written by Jimmy McGovern. Produced by Colin McKeown and Martin Tempia. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for some nudity and language. Running time: 88 min