‘Noble’: Fulfilling a Dream
Story of Christina Noble — ‘the Mother Teresa of Vietnam’ — portrayed in new biopic.
The year is 1989; the scene: an airport in Ho Chi Minh City.
Although Irishwoman Christina Noble (played by Irish comedienne Deirdre O’Kane) had never been to Vietnam before, she did visit it about 20 years earlier — in a dream.
She believes that she belongs here, even though the country is so unfamiliar that she wouldn’t be able to “find it on a map.” She has no money — and no plan.
Noble’s fascinating story is told in Noble, a biopic that traces the life of its eponymous heroine from her childhood in Dublin to her heroic work among the orphans of war-torn Vietnam.
In the movie’s opening scene, bar patrons are belting out the chorus to a song being performed onstage by a little girl. The slight figure at the microphone is Christina, whom we learn has been pursuing singing gigs instead of going to school.
After her performance, Christina is chased by Inspector Clark, who threatens to send the young delinquent to live with the strict “nuns of Connemara.” Frightened but defiant, Christina insults the inspector before running back to the tenement where she lives with her five siblings, alcoholic father and sickly mother.
Her childish fantasies of being another Doris Day provide Christina with moments of escape from an early life filled with sorrow and tragedy.
But as Christina leaves behind her childhood years — which do indeed include a stay with the Connemara nuns — her dream of stardom is supplanted by the plainer and more poignant dream of a better life.
At the age of 18, Christina ran away to England to live with her brother. In England, she met and married her husband and had three children.
But it isn’t until Christina reaches the nadir of despair that God speaks to her through another kind of dream, one that ultimately transforms not only Christina’s life, but the lives of thousands.
In about 1971, falling asleep after a harsh altercation with her husband, Christina dreams of the suffering Vietnamese and their ravaged homeland. She hears the cries of orphaned children and sees their bloodied and dirty faces; she sees the bombings, devastation and desolation.
“I know You sent [the dream],” Christina prays.
“I know I have to follow it. I will go to Vietnam. I swear it to Almighty You. When the time comes, nothing will stop me. And You better be coming with me.”
Although she is both emotionally and physically battered, Christina finds healing in her new sense of purpose. She rebuilds her life and waits patiently for the day that she is to go to Vietnam.
Two decades later, that day arrives.
Riding through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Christina notices the many homeless children known to the local folk as the bui doi (“dust of life”).
Appalled by the indifference shown towards these children, Christina takes a few of them under her wing. She gives them food and hot baths; she even buys them a meal at a public eatery where bui doi are not welcome.
Her good deeds do not go unnoticed by the authorities, who threaten to deport her.
But Christina, having herself been homeless in her teen years, will not be deterred: She continues to do what she can with her meager resources.
Yet there remain, she says, “thousands of other kids” who need help.
Frustrated by her limitations and struggling to discern the path that God wants her to follow, Christina lights a candle in church and then, with her characteristic pluck, stands before the altar and prays aloud, “I need You to tell me what to do. I’ll tell You what: I’ll walk. You lead.”
Setting forth on foot, Christina is soon led to an orphanage whose director, Madame Linh, although suspicious of Christina at first, is won over by her candor and compassion.
Even with the assistance of her new associate, however, Christina’s task is formidable: She has only three months to either obtain the money needed to renovate a wing of the orphanage or face deportation.
Finding sponsors for her project proves challenging at best.
“Maybe it is not your destiny,” says the mail clerk, after Christina receives several more disappointing responses from potential donors. “Maybe you can’t do it.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘can’t,’” Christina replies.
Succeeds on Several Levels
As a biographical film, Noble succeeds on several levels. Its use of flashbacks effectively draws parallels between the orphans’ poor existence and that of Christina’s own childhood and youth. The onscreen portrayal of the “fearless, reckless” Christina Noble — called by some “the Mother Teresa of Vietnam” — is compelling. (The film also stars Brendan Coyle of Downton Abbey fame.)
Adding to the movie’s authenticity is the fact that the Vietnamese children who appear in the film are real-life clients of the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, which was founded by Noble in 1991.
Over the years, the foundation has improved the lives of more than 700,000 children with the establishment of 100-plus projects across Vietnam and Mongolia.
It is hoped that Noble will help raise awareness of child poverty in these areas of the world.
But Noble is far more than just an inspiring biopic or consciousness-raising film.
It is a tribute to a bold and spirited woman who had the faith and the courage to turn her dream into a reality.
Celeste Behe writes from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Caveat Spectator: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, including some violent and sexual situations.