by Del Harvey
Story of the overturning of Irish law is a heartwarming drama and one of my picks for Top Ten of the Year.
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The time is 1953. The double helix of DNA had just been discovered, as was polyester and Saran Wrap, and the Iron Lung was first used in surgery. Eisenhower was president of the United State. In Ireland, the world was a much different place, and when a woman abandoned her family, social workers visited the father and children and appraised the situation. In the case of Evelyn, this meant the children were sent to live with the nuns. Well, it is Ireland we’re talkin’ about, y’know. Catholics.
Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day, Tailor of Panama) plays Desmond Doyle, a hard drinking carpenter supporting his wife and three kids, Evelyn, Dermot, and Henry. Hard drinking is a polite term for alcoholic in Ireland. (Hey, I’m Irish, and I’m not offended.) His wife leaves him and the social workers come and take his family away, on the then-sanctified grounds of Irish law that said a husband cannot raise children by himself.
Brosnan’s initial depression leads to the obvious—more drinking—at his favorite local establishment. It is here that he eventually meets a good woman (Julianna Margulies as Bernadette) who will give him the loving support and truth he needs to hear in order to win his kids back: get off your barstool and straighten out or give up any hope of ever seeing your children again. And Brosnan does just that. Having lost his first wife, then his children, and seeing the dreary life before him, he recognizes a good thing and puts together the will power to get it. It’s not easy, and Brosnan must not only clean up himself, but put his life in order and then go to court to prove he’s capable of raising his kids.
As luck would have it, Bernadette’s brother Michael (Stephen Rea—The Crying Game, Citizen X) is an attorney, who only pursues the case after sis has encouraged him to do so. As Brosnan prepares for court, we visit Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) at the orphanage where she is tended mostly by the strict and mean Sister Brigid (Andrea Irvine) and the pleasant, gentle Sister Felicity (Karen Ardiff). She misses her father and brothers, but is played with such charm and endearment by Vavasseur that no matter what she does we find ourselves urging her along or crying with her in her torment.
In preparation for what will be a landmark court case, Michael convinces Doyle that they will need a miracle in order to overturn Irish law, and soon he is joined by an Irish-American lawyer named Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn—This Is My Father) and a retired Irish legal eagle named Thomas Connolly (Alan Bates—The Caretaker, Georgy Girl, The Mothman Prophecies). What follows is a stirring, enthralling courtroom drama where the Doyle family is put on trial for standing up to Irish law. Evelyn and Doyle shine, and Irish law succumbs to familial love as history is made.
Directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), at times I felt as though I was watching a film directed by the ghost of John Ford. This is a simple, straight-forward film that tells a story of human drama with a simplistic, heartfelt honesty that is truly refreshing in this age of CGI, blue screen, and special effects. The story is what matters here, and the actors, a very fine group at that, do nothing more than deliver the very best that the script has to offer.
A wonderful family tale, a bit of the ol’ Irish, a charmingly simple story, Evelyn is a wonderful film that should not be missed. It is definitely one of my top favorites of 2002.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and lives in Chicago. He is a devout Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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