Gerard Butler hid his looks behind a mask and disfiguring makeup in The Phantom of the Opera. But onscreen in Dear Frankie, Butler shows sensitivity as well as quality. He plays a Scottish sailor hired by Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) to pretend he's the father of her son Frankie (Jake McElhone), a deaf nine-year-old living outside Glasgow who knows his crewman dad only from letters, delivered from an ever-traveling cargo ship. In truth, Lizzie writes the letters to protect Frankie from his dad's real identity. What could have been a sentimental train wreck emerges as a funny and touching portrait of three bruised people. First-time director Shona Auerbach refuses to blunt the edges of Andrea Gibb's script. A former photographer, Auerbach shows us the lived-in Scotland, not the postcard version. She does the same favor for the actors. Mortimer uncovers long-buried feelings in Lizzie. And Butler is quietly devastating in his scenes with McElhone, a real find. The film is unhurried, unslick and easy to hold dear.
From The Archives Issue 332: December 11, 1980