It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
For a dozen years of my life, I gazed into the face of Brendan Behan almost nightly. There was an enormous photograph of him on the wall of O'Rourke's Pub on North Avenue, and it didn't take a lip-reader to guess which word began with his upper teeth posed on his lower lip. Drunk and disheveled, he must have been in a late stage of his brief and noisy progress through life. He wrote that to be drunk in Ireland in his youth was not a disgrace but a sign of status, because it showed you had enough money to pay for the drink. By that measurement, Behan was a millionaire.
Still beloved and read by those who remember him, the boy-o has long since faded from his time of great celebrity, when he enlightened talk shows with his boisterous proletarian philosophy. The recent equivalent of his risky performances as a late-night chat star would be Farrah Fawcett crossed with Andrew Dice Clay. He also wrote some good plays and the classic memoir "Borstal Boy," and died at 41--which was old age, considering how he lived.
That is the Behan I remember. The Behan of "Borstal Boy" (Shawn Hatosy) is another person altogether, an idealistic young lad who naively goes to England on a mission for the IRA, is arrested, is sent to juvenile prison ("borstal") and there learns to love those he thinks he hates, including the English (through the warden's daughter) and "queers" (through his prison pal Charlie). After being discharged as a presumably pacified bisexual, he returns to Ireland and the movie ends quickly, before having to deal with the facts that he once again took up arms for the IRA, shot a cop, was sent back to prison, and (despite marriage to the saintly Beatrice) found love most reliably in the arms of the bottle.
Is the Brendan Behan of "Borstal Boy" simply the young man before alcoholism rewrote his script? I haven't read the book in years, but my strongest memory is of Behan's defiance--of his unshakable belief that carrying bombs to Liverpool and shooting cops was not criminal because he was a soldier at war. That has been the policy of the IRA from the beginning, that they are not terrorists but soldiers or prisoners of war. It is the same today with terrorists, with the difference that things were ever so much more innocent in the 1950s, so that the borstal warden (Michael York) could see Brendan as a lad with good heart who just needed a chance to settle down and think things through.