Was there ever a parent who, with the best of intentions, wasn't tempted to tell a lie to their child in hopes of shielding them from a hurtful truth? That is the dilemma single-mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) finds herself in with her young, deaf son Frankie (Jack McElhone).
For years, she has encouraged Frankie to write letters to his father who is supposedly working on the HMS Accra. However, the loyal boy is really posting his mail to a private box, which Lizzie checks every couple of weeks. She reads each note and pens a reply, telling Frankie about the excitement of being on a ship and seeing the world.
The truth is, Lizzie left Frankie's father when their son was very young. And she continues to hide her whereabouts from her estranged husband for reasons slowly revealed as the plot unfolds. Living with Frankie and her mother, Nell (Mary Riggans), the frequent relocations have meant a life of near-poverty. Yet through it all, including their latest move to a small flat in a town on the Scottish coast, she has kept the clandestine mail relationship alive--along with Frankie's love for his imaginary Dad.
That is until the fanciful HMS Accra becomes reality when the local paper announces the ship's arrival at the town's port. Frankie is thrilled at the prospect of finally getting to spend time with his father, and Lizzie is desperate for a solution. Stretching the deceit further, she decides to hire a sailor (Gerard Butler) to play the role of Frankie's father. It is a precarious situation, but it only has to work for a single day.
This UK film doesn't follow the familiar Hollywood formula. Shot with relatively dim lighting in realistic locations, it offers a peek into small town Scotland--a trip worth watching on its own--not mentioning the admirable performances by the cast.
Of course, one of the greatest issues of showing Dear Frankie to your family is "The Lie." However, unlike other films where the protagonist chooses to cover the truth for personal reasons (Hillary Duff's character in Raise Your Voice, for example), as this story unfolds you gain a greater understanding of the unselfish purpose behind Lizzie's decision. So, does her sincere desire to have her son love his father instead of hating him justify her course of action? That will be the big discussion question after the film.
There are some other content concerns parents will want to be aware of. While the script contains infrequent mild profanities, a heated argument between Lizzie and her ex-husband brings out an extreme sexual expletive and a few other harsher terms. (This language accounts for the PG-13 rating the movie received in the US.) A moment of sexual innuendo on the playground and frequent drinking and tobacco use by adults are also included.
The movie draws you into the lives of these hard-working, imperfect adults who are doing their best to bring some joy into the life of the hearing-impaired boy. Although their methods may deserve some criticism, it's hard not to sympathize with their motives.