The Boys of St. Vincent
(Les Garçons de Saint-Vincent)
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 186 min
National Film Board of Canada,
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,
Les Productions Télé-Action (Montreal)
Director John N. Smith’s The Boys of St. Vincent is an emotionally devastating dramatization of the physical and sexual abuse suffered by the children at a Catholic orphanage in Newfoundland. The crowning culmination of efforts by Smith and director Giles Walker to revive the production of dramatic fiction at the National Film Board in the eighties, the film originally aired in two parts on CBC television on December 6 and 7, 1992, before being released abroad as a feature film.
The first part of the film is set in 1975 at the nightmarish St. Vincent orphanage and recounts the abuse inflicted by the pedophilic priests on the young boys in their charge. The beating of one boy attracts the attention of the police, but an investigation is buried by the head of the justice department and church officials. Arrests and a trial are averted; Brother Lavin, the head of the orphanage, and several brothers are dismissed and sent away for "treatment."
The second part picks up the story fifteen years later in Montreal with the arrest of Lavin, now married and the father of two pre-teen sons. An inquiry into the past events is launched, forcing the victims to face their abusers once again . During the inquiry, the ramifications of the priests’ monstrous abuses – and the legacy of suffering inflicted by their actions – become painfully clear.
Featuring a vivid performance by Henry Czerny as the sadistic Brother Lavin, The Boys of St. Vincent does not flinch from depicting the physical and emotional horrors endured by the boys. However, despite its sensational subject matter, the film’s approach is restrained and non-exploitative. Neither anti-Catholic nor homophobic, the film is a dark and impressively complex critique of the abuse of power and its effect on the human spirit. Inspired by the real-life Mount Cashel scandal, the film was intensely controversial and was banned from airing in Ontario for a time during 1992 by the Ontario Court of Appeals on grounds that the film would prejudice the trial of four Christian Brothers who had been charged with sexual assault.
The Boys of St. Vincent won the Grand Prize at the 1993 Banff Television Festival and swept the Dramatic Mini-Series categories at the 1994 Gemini Awards; it won seven of its nine nominations, including the prizes for Best Dramatic Mini-Series (Sam Grana, Claudio Luca), Direction (Smith), Lead Actor (Czerny), Supporting Actress (Lise Roy), Screenplay (Des Walsh, Grana, Smith) and Film Editing (Werner Nold, André Corriveau). In 1996, it won a U.S. Peabody Award and was named Best Television Mini-Series by the National Board of Review. Czerny’s standout performance and Smith’s effective direction led to subsequent work on major Hollywood productions.