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Dear Frankie

Original UK poster
Directed by Shona Auerbach
Produced by Caroline Wood
Written by Andrea Gibb
Starring Emily Mortimer
Gerard Butler
Jack McElhone
Music by Alex Heffes
Cinematography Shona Auerbach
Editing by Oral Norrie Ottey
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) January 21, 2005  United Kingdom
March 4, 2005  United States
Running time 105 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
British Sign Language
Gross revenue $2,980,136

Dear Frankie is a 2004 British drama film directed by Shona Auerbach. The screenplay by Andrea Gibb focuses on a young single mother whose love for her son prompts her to perpetuate a deception designed to protect him from the truth about his father.


Plot synopsis

Lizzie Morrison, her opinionated, chain-smoking mother Nell, and nine-year-old deaf son Frankie frequently move to keep one step ahead of her abusive ex-husband and his family. Newly relocated in the Scottish seaside town of Greenock, she accepts a job at the local fish and chips shop owned by Marie and enrolls the boy in school.

Through a Glasgow post office box, Frankie maintains a regular correspondence with someone he believes to be his father, who allegedly is a merchant seaman working on the HMS Accra. In reality, the letters he receives are written by his mother, who prefers maintaining this charade to telling her son the reason she fled her marriage.

In a panic, Lizzie concocts a scheme to hire a man to impersonate Davey. When her effort to find someone at the local pub fails, she enlists Marie's assistance. Marie arranges for her to meet an acquaintance of hers who coincidentally is passing through town at the same time the Accra will be in port. He agrees to spend a day with Frankie in exchange for the meager payment Lizzie can offer him. When he arrives at their home to pick up the boy, he brings him a book about marine life, one of Frankie's passions, and a bond is forged immediately.

Production notes

In The Story of Dear Frankie, a bonus feature on the DVD release of the film, director Shona Auerbach and some of her cast discuss the project. The screenplay originated as a script for a 15-minute short submitted to producer Caroline Wood, who had requested writing samples from potential screenwriters for what would be Auerbach's film debut after several years of directing commercials. Auerbach was so enamored with Andrea Gibb's work she convinced her to expand it to feature length.

The production design by Jennifer Kernke and palette of colors used throughout the film were inspired by paintings created by the Glasgow Boys and Glasgow Girls, Glasgow School collectives whose artwork featured prosaic scenes of the Scottish countryside [1].

Jack McElhone was among the first group of boys Auerbach auditioned for the role of Frankie. She continued to see about one hundred more but was unable to find any who captured the essence of the character, as she perceived it, more impressively than he did. The role of the character listed as The Stranger in the credits, although he is addressed as Louis in one scene, still had not been cast just prior to the scheduled start of filming. When Auerbach met Gerard Butler, she instinctively knew he was perfect for the role and immediately offered it to him without having him read for her.

The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in May 2004. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival,[2] where it received a fifteen-minute standing ovation.[3][4] It was also shown at the Copenhagen International Film Festival, the Edinburgh Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, the Bordeaux International Festival of Women in Cinema, the Aubagne Film Festival, the Dinard Festival of British Cinema, the Austin Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, the Heartland Film Festival, the Milwaukee International Film Festival, and the Scottsdale Film Festival before going into limited release in the UK and US.

The film grossed $1,341,332 in the US and $1,638,804 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $2,980,136 [5].

Principal cast

Critical reception

In his review in the New York Times, Stephen Holden called the film "a heaping bowl of Scottish blarney," a "manipulative tearjerker," and "a fraudulent yarn riddled with plot holes and improbabilities and topped by a cynical final twist that pulls the rug out from under the story." [6]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "The filmmakers work close to the bone, finding emotional truth in hard, lonely lives . . . What eventually happens, while not entirely unpredictable, benefits from close observation, understated emotions, unspoken feelings, and the movie's tact . . . The bold long shot near the end of Dear Frankie allows the film to move straight as an arrow toward its emotional truth, without a single word or plot manipulation to distract us." [7]

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Ruthe Stein called the film "deeply moving" and added, "Dear Frankie takes time weaving its magic . . . Director Shona Auerbach doesn't rush anything in her remarkably accomplished first feature film. [She] has resurrected Butler's career . . . and gotten an unforgettable performance from Mortimer . . . . Jack McElhone seems to be a natural, the kind of child actor you can't wait to have grow up to see what he'll be able to do then." [8]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film three out of a possible four stars and commented, "What could have been a sentimental train wreck emerges as a funny and touching portrait of three bruised people . . . The film is unhurried, unslick and easy to hold dear." [9]

In Variety, David Rooney observed, "Material that might have turned to standard dysfunctional family treacle in other hands is given stirring poignancy, warmth and emotional insight in Shona Auerbach's assured first feature . . . [She has] a firm command of the visual medium and an equally strong rapport with actors . . . Auerbach and screenwriter Andrea Gibb spin a touching story that never descends into schmaltz despite ample potential. The film is anchored in part by its setting in the kind of milieu more common to classic British kitchen-sink dramas or the films of Ken Loach than to anything this emotionally tender. Enriched by subtle notes of humor, the intimate story is powered by well-drawn relationships and finely shaded characters. Not only the family bonds but also those of friendship and tentative romance are traced with delicate economy and nuance." [10]

Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times stated the film "nestles comfortably in that Scottish-Celtic niche of cozy, overcast, working-class fairy tales that seem to smell faintly of fried fish and beer . . . Not that Dear Frankie aspires to any kind of hardened realism. On the contrary, it caters to a particular type of Anglophile fantasy, the kind where the china doesn't match and the chintz is dingy, but people look out for one another and love sprouts easily in the humidity . . . [Its] surprises are few and low-key, but the story wraps up nicely. In that way, the movie is not unlike the fish dinners Frankie . . . procures from Marie - slightly soggy and bland, but as warm, starchy and satisfying as a box of fries." [11]

In the St. Petersburg Times, Steve Persall graded the film B and added, "Auerbach and screenwriter Andrea Gibb handle these circumstances with such understated grace that sap becomes special. Not perfect, but deeper, more affecting than U.S. moviegoers are accustomed to seeing. It's easy to guess what happens, but we're hooked anyway. A last-reel twist almost spoils the effect; we're waiting for something to go wrong with such a delicate story. Then, almost magically, the performances pull us through the cumbersome moments, resulting in a pat finale that honestly feels good." [12]

In the UK, Radio Times awarded the film four out of a possible five stars and commented, "This simple story is rich with precise observation and it tugs at the heartstrings without being maudlin or manipulative . . . With its sincere and perceptive script, the beautifully shot film vividly captures the raw emotions of its complex characters . . . Despite occasional flickers of a fairy-tale ending, Auerbach ultimately resists the temptation, maintaining the realism and integrity that give this thoughtful feature its bittersweet charm." [13] Philip French of The Observer described it as "a well-meaning but almost totally unconvincing tale . . . [that's] a sentimental mess," [14] while Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian stated, "This film struck me as sucrose and false when it premiered at last year's Cannes film festival. A second viewing certainly points up the presence of good actors doing an honest job, but they cannot do anything about something so mawkish and fundamentally unconvincing." [15]

The film holds an 80% "certified fresh" rating on rotten tomatoes.[16]

Awards and nominations


External links

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