BORSTAL BOY

3.5 out of 10

UK / Irish co-production

Release Date: 1st March 2002

Director: Peter Sheridan

Cast: Shawn Hatosy, Danny Dyer, Eve Birthistle, Lee Ingleby, Robin Laing with Ian McElhinney and Michael York

Writer: Brendan Behan / Peter Sheridan

Trailer: BORSTAL BOY

This is the one where Danny Dyer (RUN FOR YOUR WIFE) plays a homosexual sailor. Set in the 1940s this is a loose re-telling of Irish poet and activist, Brendah Behan (SHAWN HATOSY – BAD LIEUTENANT 2) time in a British borstal in the 1940s.  The DVD cover tries to tell a different story with a big picture of Mr Dyer looking all hard in modern dress smoking a cigarette. Well, Danny Dyer playing a gay man is quite a hard sell but despite the overall quality of the film, it’s still one of his best performances to date. Now we’ve got the stunt casting out of the way, lets take a look at the rest of the film.

Brendan Behan was an IRA activist who grew a love of poetry whilst held in a UK borstal for trying to smuggle explosives into the country. In the process he falls in love with two people, Danny Dyer‘s Charlie Milwall and Eva Birthistle’s (WAKE WOOD) Liz Joyce, the daughter of the warden (MICHAEL YORK – LOGAN’S RUN).  He attempts several escape attempts, writes lots, plays rugby, puts on a play just so that his mate, Danny Dyer can wear a dress and learns to love the English.  It’s all pretty inoffensive stuff. Even the borstal bad breed, Lee Ingleby (DOGHOUSE) is a cartoon cut out. Actually, Borstal Boy is so insipid and gentle it reminded me of 1970s comedies like It Ain’t Half Hot Mum or Dad’s Army.  Even the controversial nature of a homosexual affair back in the 1940s is glossed over and has the hue of a Mills and Boon story. The American Shawn Hatosy does a fine Irish accent and he puts in a good performance but there’s a way too much Irish twee and blarney on display, with whimsical pan pipes floating in over the soundtrack anytime he looks off whistfully into the distance. Danny Dyer takes an early risk by playing his only outwardly gay character and he again proves that given the right material to engage with he excels. This was filmed back in 2000, and is only being included because I bought a DVD that was published in 2010. I was watching it thinking how young Mr. Dyer looked. Haha.

All in all, Borstal Boy is nothing like the films it’s sellers / distributors are trying to offload. It’s not If, and it’s not Scum, it’s not Offender, or even Ghosted. It’s a made-for-TV strength dilly-dally in the park where nothing to raw, grim, brutal or borstal-like will ever happen. It’s all a bit fey. Good performances alone don’t get this out of trouble and it’s a shame to report that Borstal Boy could be the fluffiest jail movie ever made.

3.5 out of 10 – Inoffensive, tame and safe, Borstal Boy is only notable for a strong early performance by Danny Dyer.  I never thought I’d see a softer prison movie than The Shawshank Redemption, but here it is and it makes the said Tim Robbins flick look like Romper Stomper.

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

  • Shawn Hatosy: Bad Lieutenant 2, Public Enemies, Factory Girl, Alpha Dog, The Cooler, A Guy Thing, John Q, Down To You, Simpatico, The Faculty, The Postman, In & Out, Inventing The Abbots
  • Danny Dyer: Eastenders (TV), Assassin (2014), Vendetta, Lemon La Vida Loca (TV), Plebs (TV), Run For Your WifeDeviationFreerunner,  The Age Of Heroes,  7Lives,  Basement, Pimp, Malice In Wonderland,  Just For The RecordDead Man RunningDead CertThe Devil’s Playground, Jack SaidCity RatsDoghouse, Adulthood,  Straightheads, Outlaw (2007), Severance, The Other Half, Borstal Boy, The Business, The Football Factory, Wasp (short), Mean Machine, High Heels and Low Lifes, Goodbye Charlie Bright, Greenfingers, The Trench, Human Traffic
  • Eve Birthistle: Hinterland, Day of the FlowersWake Wood, Waking The Dead (TV), The Children, Imagine Me & You, Breakfast On Pluto, Ae Fond Kiss
  • Lee Ingleby: Best Laid Plans (2012),  Inspector George Gently (TV), Doghouse
  • Robin Laing: Band Of Brothers (TV), The Lakes (TV)
  • Ian McElhinney: Game Of Thrones (TV), Titanic (TV), Divorcing Jack, The Boxer, This Is The Sea, Hamlet (1996), The Boy From Mercury, Small Faces, The Playboys, Anne Devlin
  • Michael York: Transformers 3 (voice), Austin Powers 3, Austin Powers 2, 54, Austin Powers, Wide Sargasso Sea, The Return Of The Musketeers, Knots Landing (TV), The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1977), Logan’s Run, Murder On The Orient Express, The Four Musketeers, The Three Musketeers (1974), Cabaret, Zepellin, Romeo & Juliet (1968), The Taming Shrew (1967)
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