Acting is the strongest element in Stephen Frears's Liam, a social drama about a Liverpool family destroyed by poverty during the Depression. The film's governing point of view is that of seven-year-old Liam, who has to cope with the confusions and cruelty of a Catholic school education and the betrayal of his father, who metamorphoses from a jocular, hard-working family man into a raging fascist when he loses his job and is left with no hope of finding another. As he showed in My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Frears is very skilled at depicting complicated social and political dynamics played out within the arena of familial and sexual relationships. But he limits the film by filtering it through a child's consciousness. Although Anthony Borrows is touching as the stammering, good-hearted Liam, Ian Hart and Claire Hackett as his parents and Megan Burns as his teenage sister make so much of their supporting roles that you can't help wishing the film had focused on one of them instead. The real problem with Liam, however, is Frears's surprising acceptance of the visual conventions of BBC-style period realism. Warmly lit, tastefully faded, and attractively grainy, the film suggests a time past without any specificity whatsoever.
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