DirDamien O'Donnell. Ireland-UK. 2004.104mins

Thebrief, liberating alliance between two disabled men is the basis ofheart-warming drama in Inside I'm Dancing. Cynics might argue thatdisability is a convenient short cut to emotional engagement and awardsattention but Damien O'Donnell's third feature largely skirts easysentimentality to create a film that could melt the hardest opposition.

Possessing the charm of an Ellingand boasting an impressive range of performances, this will need criticalsupport and careful nurturing to win an audience but that was also a challengethat films like My Left Foot and Rain Man were able to riseabove. Inside I'm Dancing doesn't have the star attractions of thosetitles but should be able to secure a niche for a film that makes audienceslaugh, cry, think and see the world through different eyes.

O'Donnell's film has muchto commend it, and you can only hope that enterprising distributors will ensureit a fair chance of success, unlike his undervalued previous film Heartlands.

Looking like a young GaryOldman, Steven Robertson is astonishingly convincing as Michael, a docile manwith cerebral palsy who has becomes accustomed to the well-meaning, rule-boundlife at Carrigmore nursing home ("A Special Home For Special People").

Then, spiky-haired, sassyrebel Rory (McAvoy) arrives, stirring up trouble like a latterday RP McMurphy.He may be confined to a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy but his lust foradventure is a striking riposte to the living death of institutionalisedapathy. The only one who can understand what Michael is saying, Rory eagerlyleads him astray.

Eventually, he evenpersuades Michael to establish an independent life. They set themselves uptogether in a flat and hire blonde, sweet-natured Siobhan (Garai) as theirpersonal assistant. Michael begins to discover that liberty and the pursuit ofhappiness may carry a price tag of rejection, setbacks and stinging home truthsbut that these are a price worth paying.

Breezy and engaging, InsideI'm Dancing isn't afraid to tackle darker issues of society's attitude tothe disabled. There are powerful moments when Michael confronts the father whohas cut him out of his life and Siobhan is given a tough, well-written scene inwhich she rejects the possibility of intimacy with either of her charges. Theprevailing tone may be comical, swashbuckling and life-affirming but is alsodesperately poignant at times.

East Is East and Heartlands haveamply demonstrated Damien O'Donnell's ability to bring out the best in hisactors and that is one of the distinguishing features of Inside I'm Dancing.

Robertson creates anemotionally rounded character in Michael with eyes constantly expressing thehunger and neediness of his character. McAvoy burns with charisma as the sexy,roguish Rory. An unrecognisable Romola Garai (I Capture The Castle) isso completely convincing as Siobhan that this reviewer only realised it was heron reading the end credits. If the failure of Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nightsdamaged her star potential then this will instantly restore her allure as asupremely talented young actress.

Prod co: WT2, Octagon Productions
UKdist: Momentum
Execprods: TimBevan, Eric Fellner, Natascha Wharton, Morgan O'Sullivan
Prods: James Flynn, Juanita Wilson
Scr: Jeffrey Caine based on thestory by Christian O'Reilly
Cine: Peter J Robertson
Ed: Frances Parker
Proddes: TomConroy
Mus: David Julyan
Maincast: StevenRobertson, James McAvoy., Romola Garai, Brenda Fricker, Stanley Townsend,Gerard McSorley