Traumatised Spanish Civil War veteran William Franklin (Quinn) returns home to Ireland and takes a job teaching in a Catholic reformatory school. There, he is outraged by the abusive treatment of young boys by the priests and finds himself again fighting a fascist regime.
Dramatising the abuse of youngsters by the Irish Catholic Church, Song For A Raggy Boy is bound to be compared with The Magdalene Sisters. Where Peter Mullan’s controversial and celebrated film dealt with girls in convent laundries, Aisling Walsh’s film takes a tough look at the mistreatment of boys in a reformatory school in 1939. Both films are based on true stories, both are harrowing dramas working to generate a sense of outrage on the viewer’s part, and both provide an indictment of Church hypocrisy — where Mullan drew parallels with the Taliban, Walsh does so with fascism.
However, Raggy Boy provides relief from its catalogue of brutality with scenes of a lighter dramatic tone — during which Quinn’s teacher establishes a friendship with the boys, in particular the physically abused Liam (Travers) — where The Magdalene Sisters had but a few moments of mordant humour.
Raggy Boy doesn’t pack the same punch as Mullan’s film, but it benefits from committed performances from its adult leads. Quinn’s awakening from wounded war veteran to child saviour is convincing and cliché-free, while Glen’s turn as the sadistic Brother John is nothing short of terrifying.
This tough look at abuse within the Irish Catholic Church isnt as deeply affecting as Mullans The Magdalene Sisters, but performances from its adult leads never flinch from the truth.