Classic Movie 2019

Classic Movie Of The Week: Children Of A Lesser God (1986)

Starring: William Hurt, Marlee Matlin, Piper Laurie

Director: Randa Haines

When the new speech teacher James (Hurt) starts at a school for the deaf he’s struck by the anger and passion of the janitor. Sarah (Matlin) is a young woman who was the brightest student at the school but has remained speechless by choice and is under acheiving by working as the cleaner. James convinces her to take lessons with him, but finds himself falling for the difficult woman. Can he break down all the walls that she has put up to protect herself?

Originally a stage play adapted for the screen, this film suffers from none of the pitfalls that films of that nature ususally succumb to. The play itself was written for a deaf actress, Phyllis Frelich, and was based somewhat on her relationship with her hearing husband. It takes us into the world of the deaf and you get a real sense of the attitudes that they face from their own families and teachers.

Marlee Matlin is here given the role of Sarah, and she’s incredible, going on to win an Oscar for her performance, the first ever deaf person to do so and only the second deaf actor to ever appear in a film (the first since 1926). I love that you can really see why James falls for her. Her startling beauty is hard to ignore, but she’s also full of stifled emotions, able to express through her signing and her expressive face the full gamut of her feelings. She’s truly remarkable and I really felt for her as I learned more about her in the course of the film. She’s really something.

William Hurt as James becomes our entry point into the film. There are no subtitles to this film, and he kind of repeats to himself what she says, which could have been really irritating, but we’re in the hands of a wonderful actor here. This has been a point that the film has been criticised on, that we see the deaf world from the perspective of the hearing person, as oposed to the deaf. It’s perhaps something to think about or keep in mind. Coming into this film from a film perspective, it doesn’t take away from the emotions and beauty of the film. Hurt’s performances are often quite restrained and here that’s the perfect way to keep this film from becoming too emotional, too TV movie. You know how he feels and how deeply he feels it, but he’s got such a deep way of showing you. It’s a true talent.

I really enjoyed this film and found myself really caught up in it, which generally doesn’t happen to me in romances and dramas unless they’re really good. I loved Sarah’s story, as her past and her inner life are unfolded for us. I really cared about what happened to her, just like James does. I liked seeing his work with other students too, and their growth under his lessons. I liked Piper Laurie as Sarah’s mother, who had made mistakes and had no idea how to find her way back to her child. I liked the head of the school, who was stuffy and not interested in change, and yet he’s not one dimensional either. There’s some really nice things in this film going on around the central two characters and I just loved the whole thing. I wanted James to get through to Sarah, I wanted Sarah to trust him and start to believe in life again… I’m not going to tell you whether she does, because I recommend you watch it and find out.

See It If: you ever felt hurt and misunderstood and put up walls, this one is for you. It’s a moving drama that makes you think and also a lovely romance between two excellent leads.


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