Stephen Frears's adaptation of The Back Crack Boy
, Joseph McKeown's novel about desperate times in 1930's Liverpool, conforms to the director's pattern of following a solid hit with a dodgy miss. It opens with a jubilant New Year's Eve celebration, as Liverpool puts on a brave front in the face of England's slide into economic depression. That stiff upper lip soon begins to tremble: The dockyards (which are owned by the Samuels, a wealthy Jewish family) are shutting down, putting many dads out of work and exacerbating already existing tensions between native Liverpudlians and recent Irish immigrants. Da (Ian Hart), one of the economic casualties, worries about...