Dir: Stephen Bradley | Cinema of Our Time| UK, Ireland| 2013 | 101 mins
Directed by Stephen Bradley, Noble is one of those uplifting “based on a true story” biopics about a white woman saving impoverished non-white children. You don’t need to see this movie to know how it’s going to end—- the formula is tried and true, and we’ve seen it a million times before. There’s even a last-minute airport savior scene that is so cliché, it makes the “true story” seem disingenuous.
However, Noble offers a slight departure from the typical formula in that the title character, Christina Noble, played by Dierdre O’Kane, is a resilient fighter who survived numerous traumatic life experiences. However, because Christina has endured so much, Noble tries to cram in too many of her life experiences in under two hours. The result is undermining to the actual life of Christina, as the film just moves from event A to B to C, without any time to let the events penetrate. The audience has barely any time to register the tragedy of losing her mother, then becoming homeless, then being separated from her siblings, and so forth. When Christina becomes a young adult, she is kidnapped and raped. Despite how absolutely traumatic such an experience must have been, the film has already moved along to the next traumatic event. Consequently, Christina’s life story is reduced to just a series of events, despite how tragic and heroic it actually is.
The most heroic event is the major storyline of Noble. In 1989, Christina travels to Ho Chi Minh City, spurred by a dream she had about Vietnam during the war. She arrives with no plans, but her intentions becomes obvious to her when she sees many orphaned and homeless street children that remind of her of her own upbringing. With the help of the orphanage director, Madame Linh (Nhu Quynh Nguyen), she sets to work to re-build a refuge facility for the street children.
There are obstacles and colourful locals along the way, but it’s hard to feel any suspense because we know that she will succeed-— that’s just how this formula works. However, when the ending credits roll and we see the real-life Christina Noble and all her accomplishments, even the most cynical person can’t help but admire her achievements and feel that there is hope yet for humanity.
That is the point of the film, but it could have had more impact with a tighter narrative of Christina’s life. At best, Noble is a feel-good formulaic story. At its worst, it borders dangerously close to a tired trope. Luckily, there’s enough G-rated humour to keep all the characters likable. I just wish it had nobler intentions as a film.