Reviewed by: Ken James
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Aidan Quinn, Julianna Margulies, Stephen Rea, Sophie Vavasseur | Directed by: Bruce Beresford | Produced by: Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair, Michael Ohoven | Written by: Paul Pender | Distributor: United Artists
This Christmas comes an enjoyable and comfortably predictable true story from the land of St. Patrick and St. Stephen. “Evelyn” takes us back to the 1950s where the Catholic Church maintains a seemingly impenetrable and interwoven hold on the culture, society, and government of Ireland. It’s a David vs. Goliath story that leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, but does contain some offensive language.
Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan, back in his native Ireland) is a hard drinkin’ middle aged father of three down on his luck. When his unfaithful wife abandons the family, George finds himself at the mercy of the Church. The SPCC (Society of Prevention for Cruelty to Children) learns of his plight as a single father with no woman to care for the children, and the courts quickly rule that each child must go in to foster care at Church institutions. Doyle is forced by the courts to drive his two boys, Dermot (Niall Beagan) and Maurice (Hugh McDonagh), to an all boys Catholic school while Desmond’s father (Frank Kelly) sadly takes sweet Evelyn to St. Joseph’s girls school.
Doyle believes that this turn of events is not permanent as he is promised the return of his children once he proves he has gainful employment. However, upon finding a job, the courts still refuse to allow the return of all of his children as the law states that both parents must consent, and since Evelyn’s mother has abandoned the family, whereabouts unknown, Desmond is between a rock and a hard place. Yet his father’s heart does what every father should: fight for their return, even if your opponent is the mighty Church and State.
But how can a poor man like Desmond find representatives to champion his cause? A beautiful friend of Desmond, local tavern employee Bernadette (Julianna Margulies, “E.R.”), turns him on to her lawyer brother Michael (Stephen Rea). When the two meet, Michael is convinced they don’t have a chance. But he ends up taking the case and increases the team with two others: “Yank” Nick (Aidan Quinn), an empathetic divorced Irishman with many years spent in the States, and retired lawyer/Rugby champion Tom Connolly (Alan Bates), the only one of the trio with any family law experience. Their victories and losses are sad and humorous as we go along for the ride, rooting for the underdog to be reunited with what is left of his family once again.
People of the Christian faith will find much to enjoy in “Evelyn”. There are numerous references to prayer, Scripture passages, forgiveness, sobriety, and family. But “Evelyn” doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of Catholicism in some respects. While several of the Sisters in Evelyn’s school are kind, one in particular acts horribly toward the students. In one scene she is disgusted with Evelyn’s sense of hope and misreads her defiance as disrespect when, in fact, Evelyn is the more biblical in her response. Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) really does a terrific job in her role. You can’t help but love her innocence and spirit. Her love for the Lord’s teachings comes through in her mature prayers, honesty, and respect.
Evelyn is constrasted by her father. Desmond, who is more your holiday churchgoer but still claims to ascribe to a trinitarian faith in God though he has his doubts at time. In one scene where he meets with his legal team, they joke about the spirit they are drinking at the time being the only Holy Spirit they know about. It is played for comedy, and I took no offense at it since the men making the joke aren’t considered religious anyway.
In any romantic drama nowadays, it seems like things are progressing nicely when all of the sudden the two main characters end up in bed together. Thankfully, in “Evelyn” this does not happen. Bernadette is a chaste woman who has her standards. She has an obvious liking for Desmond, but won’t court him unless he quits drinking and cleans up his lifestyle. How often is that message conveyed in film?
The offensive language contains about a half dozen instances of the Lord’s name being taken in vain, while “bloody” is used about ten times (though not offensive to American audiences). A few other offensive words are used as well.
While “Evelyn” won’t be a top grossing film, I do hope it does well so that more producers will take notice and bring more of this type to the big screen. Kudos to Brosnan and his company Irish DreamTime for noticing a great story full of faith, hope and love. “But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13).