Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Alex Etel, Lewis McGibbon, Daisy Donovan, James Nesbitt
(PG, 98 min.)
"Money is like muck, not good except it be spread." Sir Francis Bacon
Damian talks to dead people. However, his conversations are not with bloody corpses, but with surprisingly engaging and human saints of yore. For a refreshing return to innocence seen through a child’s unjaded eyes, rent or download this 2005 British film.
Seven-year old Damian (Alex Etel) and his twelve-year old brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) are the new kids on the block in the north of England. Well, actually, the block is new, too, one of those manicured suburbs that sprouts magically – and it really does on screen – from a field of wild flowers, replacing it with tidy lawns and brick bungalows whose cheery kitchens sport all the modern conveniences. And a cheery kitchen is needed, too, since Damian, Anthony, and their lets-keep-a-stiff-upper-lip dad have to navigate such without a Mum. She has recently died and this prefab fantasy is just the ticket for the new all male threesome.
The boys’ first day of school is a bit rocky, too, for Damian, at least. The teacher asks everyone to a name a hero and most come up with the stars of Manchester United fame. But Damian chimes in with a favorite saint and a short biography of said. He then rolls on to a recitation of various gruesome martyrdoms like he’s running though the multiplication tables.
At lunch more worldly Anthony cautions him to zip his sanctified lips for a while and talk about sports like all the other tots. Damian is not buying it and seeks solace near the rail road tracks behind their new home in the castle-like fort be makes from their moving boxes.
Out of the blue he is joined by St. Clare of Assissi, who appears serenely beatific in between long puffs on her cigarette. “If you’re good down here,” she calms her shocked companion, “you can do just about anything after.” Sort of like being accepted into Harvard
Sadly for Damian, St. Clare has not met his recently departed Mum amongst her other saint friends. But it’s roomy in heaven, Saint Clare tells him. “Infinite, in fact.”
The conversation about the mysterious ways of God and His Limitless Paradise is just heating up when a passing train shakes the cardboard fort to its foundations and deposits (an apt word) a large, black satchel directly on Damian’s noggin.
He wakes up to find his saintly companion gone and opens the duffle bag resting next to him.
It is filled with paper images of her Majesty, not the kind you frame, but more like those you exchange for chips, lager, sweets, or take away food. Damian knows in his heart this cash has been sent from God and that it is his duty to do good with it. But time is short, since only one week remains before the UK will succumb to the inevitability of the Euro, at which time the two-hundred-thousand-and-then-some pound notes will be worthless.
He shares the secret with Anthony, who varies between serious leanings –“Let’s invest in real estate” – and using it as a passage to popularity with his new school chums.
Otherworldly Damian turns to his favorite Saints. St. Francis suggests giving it to the poor, and St. Nicolas even assists Damian in stuffing the bills into the mail chute of “needy neighbors.”
But things go awry when Damian, in a fit of generosity, unloads a couple of grand into the school charity bin. The adult world then makes an unwelcome visit in the same way it did when Jim and Huck had to leave their raft and go ashore. Somehow Damian’s explanation that he had found the money only earns him a mild lecture from the school principal, his dad, and the comely charity lady who elicited his gift. Not one of them seems a bit curious about the details or any lingering cash.
Not so with the more alert schoolboys, who fill in details of a bizarre robbery of pounds on their way to the incinerator. So this wasn’t a gift from God after all. The ultimate disillusionment is even more troublesome to Damian than the real life robber who skulks in the shadows trying to recover the loot.
Even his saints seem a bit flummoxed by this new turn of events. St. Peter says something about keys to the kingdom, sending Damian to his now deserted former home to try the old key. In this desperate move to avoid the robber’s reacquisition of the cash, Damian must desert his role of Joseph in the school nativity scene, a situation of infinite irony as the real saint must play himself in the saga. To cover for him, the real Joseph assumes Damian’s part, crouching low next to the manger and affecting a schoolboy’s high-pitched tones.
For a while more chaos ensues as the adults take over the movie, sadly even bringing Damon into their world of moral confusion, situation ethics, and rationalized greed.
Damian ultimately wrests back his film from them, but with such an ambiguous and surreal ending that saints smoking in cardboard forts seems like the evening news.
Anthony lets his little brother onto a way to get his sweets free of charge from the store clerk.
“You boys are new here. Haven’t seen you before, have I?” the clerk asks just before ringing up their candy.
“We just moved here. Our Mum’s dead,” Anthony replies, knowing that the awkward moment can only be relieved with lowered eyes and a mumbled. ”No charge.”
Damian has similar success at a neighborhood open house where he is given free rein of the cookie tray. It is no wonder that he thinks God is doing the same embarrassed penance when he lands the sack of cash on Damian’s head.
For many of us, although indeed Mum may be departed, that isn’t going to work, and we will either have to pay for our treats or make them ourselves. I suggest the latter.
Here’s a recipe for a particularly tasty British sweet. I'm sure Anthony would have loved the fourth ingredient.
Chocolate Rum Truffles
- Plain chocolate, broken up (5 oz)
- Extra thick double cream ( 1/4 pint)
- Butter (1 oz)
- 2 Tablespoon Rum
- Toasted nuts
- Cocoa powder
- Melted chocolate
Place the chocolate, cream and butter in a pan and leave over a low heat to melt. Stir in the rum or liqueur. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and leave in the fridge to set firm overnight.
Take heaped teaspoons of the mixture and roll up into balls. Dust the balls in cocoa powder, roll in toasted nuts or dip into melted chocolate.
Arrange the truffles in petit four cases and chill until ready to serve.
Recipe Source: The Great British Kitchen