The Butcher Boy Neil Jordan

Finally available on DVD, this disturbingly hilarious cult favourite was far too dark and defiant of conventional categorisation to find an easy audience when it was first released in 1998 despite the pedigree of Neil Jordan, the popular director behind international art house hits like The Crying Game and Mona Lisa, and more mainstream Hollywood fare like Interview with the Vampire. Possibly the blackest comedy ever made, The Butcher Boy is the story of Francis "Francie” Brady, a boisterous Irish country lad who, with his alcoholic, abusive father and suicidal mother, never had a chance. Beginning deceptively, almost sentimentally — we’re meant to believe that he will rise above his dysfunctional home life and the parochial hypocrisy of post-war Ireland — the narrative starts light but gets increasingly sinister. Think of it as the anti-Billy Elliot; this is not the feel good tale we’ve been trained to expect. Rather than rooting for an impoverished boy whose tenacity and strength of character will ultimately allow him to triumph over adversity, we are left instead to watch uncomfortably as our doomed anti-hero gradually descends into madness. Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis and narrated in hindsight from the ironic, increasingly delusional perspective of the protagonist, it’s a surreal, exhilarating, heartbreaking tragedy — as difficult as it can be to watch, you can’t turn away. Eamonn Owens, plucked from obscurity to play the title character, is absolutely stunning in his debut as Francie, and the supporting turns from actors Stephen Rea as his father and Fiona Shaw as nemesis Mrs. Nugent (playing a role not dissimilar to her Aunt Petunia turn in the Harry Potter series) are equally impressive. The controversial decision to have "Fight the real enemy” Sinéad O’Connor play the Virgin Mary turned out to be more than just stunt casting, as she gives a credible, understated performance as Francie’s sole sympathetic confidante. Bonus features include the theatrical trailer, deleted scenes and insightful director’s commentary, in which Jordan explains how he was successfully able to balance the fine line between farce and melodrama. (Warner)