Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

CNS photo/Aspiration Media
Deirdre O'Kane, with children, stars in a scene from the movie "Noble." The film, which will debut on 150 screens nationwide May 8, tells the story of an Irish woman with an indomitable spirit who years after raising her own children went to Vietnam to help orphans.

Film dramatizes woman’s work with Vietnamese orphans

By MARK PATTISON, Catholic News Service | Published April 30, 2015

WASHINGTON (CNS)—“Noble,” which will debut on 150 screens nationwide May 8, tells the story of an Irish woman with an indomitable spirit.

It took another Irish woman with the same kind of spirit to make the movie.

Deirdre O’Kane said it took six years from idea to finished form to tell the story of Christina Noble, who has spent the past 26 years in Vietnam helping the nation’s orphans and abandoned children.

Noble’s story is riveting stuff. The youngest child of a large brood in a slum in post-World War II Dublin, her mother suffers from consumption and her father is an alcoholic who can’t keep a job. Even though she and her siblings are truants from school, Christina gets by with a great singing voice for one so young, as well as frequent chats with God.

If only that were as bad as this true story gets. Mom dies and the court splits up the children. Christina is sent to a convent orphanage. When she gets old and wily enough, she escapes and finds work in a small factory. But she is impregnated in a gang rape and unknowingly signs away her right to keep her baby at a second convent orphanage.

Christina makes her way to Birmingham, England, where she falls in love with a young Italian who buys the fish and chips shop where she works. But after bearing him three children, she learns her husband is cheating on her. She packs up the kids and moves to London.

Watching the “telly,” Christina sees a news report about a country she’d never heard of before: Vietnam. She has dreams about Vietnam. After raising her children to adulthood, she makes the trek to Vietnam, not knowing exactly what she will do but knowing she will be doing something.

Noble’s work with Vietnamese orphans—the number at last count was estimated at 70,000 since 1989—has won her recognition from the British and Vietnamese governments.

But, according to O’Kane, “to a younger generation, I don’t think they would have known her. That’s why I thought it was a very good idea to make the film.”

For O’Kane, “I first came across her when I read her book. That was 20 years ago. She’s got two books written. I read them both. I was 25 years old. I was fairly profoundly affected by the book. I knew that I would encounter her somehow. I thought maybe I would end up volunteering for the (Christina Noble) Foundation.”

As it turned out, O’Kane, who started as a standup comic, was asked to emcee a fundraiser for the foundation. “It was meant to be a one-off, but I hosted every one for the next five years,” she said. It was only at the last one where O’Kane was able to corner Noble briefly and tell her that her life story would make a good movie. O’Kane said Noble was wary about the film’s tone but ultimately consented.

The script took two years to craft, and even so, was rearranged in the editing room after filming. It helped that O’Kane’s husband, Stephen Bradley, was the film’s writer and director.

O’Kane took on the role of the adult Christina, but told Catholic News Service in an April 20 telephone interview from London, “I remember thinking if I had to back down (for an A-list star), I will back down, because making the picture is more important. I got lucky.”

Much of the filming was done in Vietnam, which was in itself an adventure because the country “had no film infrastructure,” O’Kane said. “We relied on a lot of goodwill.”

While the movie shows Christina Noble talking to God in church settings, O’Kane reported that “Christina talks to God all the time. She picks up the phone to speak to God. I’ve seen her do that in her own house. She has a very personal relationship with God, and she’ll talk to him anywhere, anytime.”

“Little Boy” (Open Road)

Under the guidance of his kindly parish priest (Tom Wilkinson), an undersized lad (Jakob Salvati) living with his mother (Emily Watson) and older brother (David Henrie) in 1940s coastal California tries to prove his faith in God by carrying out a series of good works. His goal is to win the release of his beloved father (Michael Rapaport), a GI taken prisoner by the Japanese. But, along with the more familiar tasks of feeding the hungry and visiting the sick, the clergyman also requires the boy cleanse his mind of hatred by befriending a Japanese-American widower (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) who has been ostracized by the local community. Religious values and a gentle sensibility pervade director Alejandro Monteverde’s nostalgic parable which is suitable for a wide audience. Even those who appreciate the film’s lessons in devotion and good will, though, may note its occasional lapses into forced plotting and sentimentality. Scenes of combat with minimal gore, a couple of crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

“The Age of Adaline” (Lionsgate)

Serviceable romantic drama in which, due to the unique circumstances of an auto accident that caused her temporary death, a 29-year-old widow (Blake Lively) in 1930s San Francisco emerges from the trauma immune to aging. She spends the next eight decades on the run from prying authorities and from the kind of relationships her perpetual youth would make awkwardly unbalanced before reluctantly letting herself fall for a wealthy Silicon Valley tech whiz (Michiel Huisman). Though this turn of events delights her now-elderly daughter (Ellen Burstyn), complications from her long past (involving Harrison Ford) threaten her contemporary chance for commitment-based happiness. Glossy proceedings follow on a silly premise in director Lee Toland Krieger’s film, though Lively’s skillful portrayal of the heroine’s not-quite-resigned state of isolation quells some skepticism. While her character’s wildly improbable plight makes the script’s tacit acceptance of out-of-wedlock sexual behavior somewhat difficult to evaluate, the unpleasant undertones of a late plot development connecting Huisman’s character to Ford’s are unmistakable. Bedroom scenes implying benignly viewed nonmarital and premarital relationships, graphic but bloodless crash sequences, at least one instance each of profanity and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.