In this grimy, charming movie, Emily Mortimer plays Lizzy, the haunted but devoted mother of a deaf boy called Frankie (Jack McElhone). They're on the move, together with Lizzie's charmingly crotchety Mom, and settle for a while in a small, beautiful town by the sea.
Frankie's father is missing, but Frankie gets regular letters from him as he sails around the world on a ship called The Accra. But, we soon discover, the letters are not really from Frankie's father. They're ghost written by his mother Lizzie, because she wants her son to feel loved by his father.
Frankie does not realise his father is violent, or that his family are actually on the run from his dad. So when it's announced that The Accra will actually dock in the town where they're hiding, Lizzie decides to hire a sailor to pretend to be Frankie's long lost father. Unexpectedly, the stranger does more than he's paid to do and finds himself warming not just to the child he's pretending is his long lost son, but to Lizzie too.
If the only advantage Dear Frankie offered was the opportunity to stare fixedly at Emily Mortimer for 90 minutes, a lot of people would probably hire it and watch it with the sound off. She's the kind of beautiful that combines innocence and mystery, womanliness and wilful girlishness that refuses to age.
But there's more to Dear Frankie than that.
Shot in the overcast Scottish light so dark and damp you can almost smell the wetness and the wood smoke, Dear Frankie's atmosphere envelops you, and allows you to slip you into the likeable characters' lives.
Young Jack McElhone does a good job playing a mischievous Frankie, a kid older than his years who is nevertheless just a kid, hoping for normality and stability and living without either, subsisting on love... and deep-fried chips from the corner shops in the towns where his family temporarily settles.
This film is a sure tearjerker. And it doesn't soften the jerks with an entirely happy ending, or a very conclusive one either. But it will almost certainly reaffirm some of your faith in the beauty of life, in its twists and turns, and almost-miracles... if, that is, you're prepared to overlook a few plot points that seem too coincidental to be true.
So, despite its flaws, Dear Frankie deserves better than to be hired on DVD a few months down the line. It's not just a date movie, not quite a chick flick, not quite an art flick, not quite a commercial rom-com and far too intelligent to be on the Hallmark channel. It's better than most of the boxes people might try to shove it into, and that includes your TV. Go see it.
- Jean Barker
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