Jun 8, 2015 Film & TV
The scripting is often simplistic too: the division between the good guys and bad guys is a chasm.What lifts the film above being just another misery memoir is Christina’s gutsy determination and her take-no-prisoners approach, particularly when dealing with the businessmen and bureaucrats she needs to help her achieve her goal of setting up an orphanage.
She’s not averse to breaking into lilting Irish song to soothe difficult situations but she’s not one to waste words either. Curiously, she speaks through almost clenched teeth. This grates at first, but once you’ve witnessed the horrors of her early life as a child in 1940s Ireland — mainly through a series of flashbacks — it becomes a plausible facet of her complex character.
Separated from her siblings and sent to a Catholic orphanage, she somehow weathers her youthful years with the nuns until they push her beyond endurance and she escapes. (She later reminds her Vietnamese colleague Madame Linh, played by Nhu Quynh Nguyen, that although the Vietnamese fought a superpower, she did battle with a more ferocious foe: nuns.)
Life outside the convent is little better. She ends up living rough in a Dublin park and falls pregnant after being gang-raped. Worse, her son is taken from her for adoption. When she marries and has further children, she is abused by her husband and forced to flee yet again.
Undaunted, her courage, determination and humour see her through to a triumphant conclusion in middle age: setting up a children’s home for the despised bui doi (dust of life), who eke out an existence on Vietnam’s streets. As Christina says: “I was dust myself once.”
The fact the Christina Noble Foundation now runs orphanages in Vietnam and Mongolia makes the story even more remarkable. But no one except a devout Catholic will understand why, after enduring so much hardship at the hands of the nuns, she remains a lifelong believer in Catholicism who regularly returns to church to beg and cajole her God into helping her get what she wants and the children need.