Big Boys Don’t Cry will be screening in the UK with special charity partners from today and is available on DVD from 5th September and on-demand from 7th October 2022.
Paul Connolly was born in East London in 1962. After being abandoned by his mother at a young age, Paul spent his childhood at St Leonard’s Children’s Home in Hornchurch, Essex. But far from offering security, safety and love, St Leonard’s was a house of physical, mental and sexual abuse for the children in its care. The home closed in 1984, but its horrors were not exposed until the mid-1990s, with the kids of St Leonard’s suffering in silence as they grew into adults. Based on Paul Connolly’s first book, Against All Odds, and adapted by Steve Crowhurst, who also directs, Big Boy’s Don’t Cry explores the horror of institutional abuse through the eyes of a man hiding the invisible scars of his past.
Michael Socha (This is England, Being Human) offers us a powerful performance wrapped in the pain, fear and uncertainty of a man who believed he was worthless. Here Paul’s experiences are locked away as he battles daily to suppress the fear and anxiety of his childhood and youth. Since leaving St Leonard’s as a teenager, Paul’s life has been full of violent distractions, as his bottled-up pain, anger and hurt find the only vent available. However, on discovering a police investigation has begun into the abuse children suffered at St Leonard’s, the ghosts of Paul’s past return and this time, they cannot be silenced or suppressed as he faces the truth with the support of his new girlfriend (Zoë Tapper).
While Socha and Tapper may carry the adult story, the heartbreaking and painful realities of the abuse suffered at St Leonard’s sit with the film’s young cast through a series of flashbacks. Within these powerful and heartbreaking glimpses into the past, young Paul, Mitchell Norman (Giantland, The Dare) and Joshua Coombes as his childhood friend Liam offer us performances of such intensity and maturity that they carry the whole picture in their young hands.
Over the years, many films and limited series have explored the institutional abuse allowed to prosper in children’s homes and residential schools. The Boys of St. Vincent (1992) explored the events at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Newfoundland, during the 70s and the orchestrated child abuse of the Roman Catholic Church. Meanwhile, Song for a Raggy Boy, based on the book of the same name by Patrick Galvin, explored the violent sexual abuse and control of a 1930s reformatory school. Big Boys Don’t Cry never quite captures the power or reflects the complexity of St Vincent or Raggy Boy due to the choice of a gritty British crime drama aesthetic and short runtime. As a result, we are left feeling that Connolly’s story had so much more to say.
BIG BOYS DON’T CRY (MICHAEL SOCHA)
While it may lack space and time, Crowhurst’s film remains a powerful and urgent exploration of institutional abuse and its impact on every life caught in its horror. Like St Vincent, Big Boys Don’t Cry asks us to reflect on the structures that allowed abuse to continue for so long but never fully explores the failures of local government and the cover up’s that allowed perpetrators to walk free. As in St Vincent, there is a sense that children’s homes such as St Leonard’s were untouchable, the children in their care without voice or representation. Further exploration of these issues would have allowed Big Boys Don’t Cry to build upon its outstanding central performances while challenging the systems that allowed such horrors to develop and flourish in plain sight. Connolly’s journey is, at its core, one of hope, courage and rebirth. In his story, Against All Odds, Paul opened a door for the living survivors of historical abuse to come forward and share their experiences; I only hope Big Boys Don’t Cry achieves the same.
Connolly’s journey is, at its core, one of hope, courage and rebirth. In his story, Against All Odds, Paul opened a door for the living survivors of historical abuse to come forward and share their experiences; I can only hope Big Boys Don’t Cry achieves the same.