The Boy From Mercury (1996)

D: Martin Duffy
S: James Hickey, Hugh O'Connor, Rita Tushingham

Obvious but generally effective meditation on childhood escapism, set early 1960s Dublin. Eight year old Harry (James Hickey) believes that the reason for his general unhappiness on Earth is that in reality he is from the planet Mercury and waits for rescue while he gathers information about Earth and its people. Among those he watches are his older brother Paul (Hugh O'Connor), a would-be rock 'n' roller, his widowed mother (Rita Tushingham), who makes him visit his father's grave and talk to him every week, his eccentric uncle Tony (Tom Courtenay), who rides a moped and speaks in hilarious malapropisms, and a local bully who makes his life a misery. Fuelled by weekly viewings of Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe at his local cinema, Harry develops increasingly elaborate fantasies for avoiding reality, until reality eventually proves to be his salvation with the intervention of his friends and family to solve his real life problems.

There is no question that this film is best suited to a younger audience (unlike the similarly-themed The Butcher Boy), preferably one around the same age as the central protagonist. It would also probably have been at its best as a short, not just given the attention span of its target audience, but the lack of dramatic material to fill a full hour and a half. Young Hickey is generally good in the lead, and holds the centre of the drama well, but the adult performances are a little over-ripe in the manner of a pantomime and lack convincing development; again an indication of the film's suitability for younger viewers (after all, when you're eight, all adults are weird). But it is made with enough confidence to prove watchable for older viewers, and many moments will have resonance in their personal experiences of an Irish childhood (Ian McIlhenny is particularly funny as an authoritarian Christian Brother). It is also sumptuously scored by Stephen McKeown in the manner of John Williams, and the film on the whole is a conscious attempt to inject a note of fantastical wonder to Irish cinema which has been largely absent in the last hundred years. For the effort alone, the film is worth seeing, even if it isn't quite as endearing as some of its Hollywood equivalents.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.