review by Dan
Lybarger, 20 December 2002
On a first viewing, I found
Bruce Beresford's new movie Evelyn to be too cloying and
syrupy for its own good. But for some strange reason, the next day I
wanted to show it to friends and relatives and get their reaction.
Now that I've caught it again, the film's virtues outweigh its
missteps. The humor seems less forced, and the beauty of the core
story tramples the moments where the Irish-set drama sinks into
blarney. Working from a
fascinating and historically important 1953 Irish legal case,
Scottish screenwriter and producer Paul Pender deserves credit for
simply introducing the story to the rest of the world.
During that event, an unemployed
housepainter and part-time singer named Desmond Doyle (Pierce
Brosnan) suffered a double calamity. His wife, weary of their
crumbling marriage, abandons him for an Englishman and heads to
Australia without leaving anyone a forwarding address. Because of
her abrupt departure and his financial woes ("Santa was
strapped for cash this year," he tells his offspring), Desmond
has little choice but to give his children over to Catholic
Church-sponsored orphanages. As far as the Irish government is
concerned, Desmond's luck and his habits -- like cursing and
consuming Guinness -- make him an unfit parent.
Gradually, Desmond gets a job
restoring a grand old home and wants to bring his daughter Evelyn
(Sophie Vavasseur) and sons Dermot (Niall Began) and Maurice (Hugh
McDonagh) home. The government and the Church remain unmoved, and
there's an obscure 1941 law that requires him to obtain the consent
of the mother to take custody. With his spouse living incommunicado
in Sydney, that's not going to happen. As far as the law is
concerned, it would have been so much easier if she had died.
Desmond even tries rescuing his tots from the orphanages, but it's
all for naught. Even if one of the sisters feels to the need to beat
God's love into the Evelyn, Desmond's love is little match for the
local child welfare system. Thanks to an intelligent barmaid named
Bernadette Beattie (Julianna Margulies), Desmond gradually quits the
chemical recreation and recruits her brother Michael (Stephen Rea)
to act as his solicitor. He and Desmond's unceasing determination
eventually gain support from a hotshot Irish-American barrister
(Aidan Quinn) and a retired lawyer-soccer player (Alan Bates from Gosford
Park), who uses his celebrity status to help argue Desmond's
case on a new medium called television.
Because of the omnipresence of
television these days, it's actually fascinating to watch Desmond
and others trying to comprehend this new contraption. It might have
been even more effective if screenwriter Pender had cut the stale
wisecrack about TV never lasting.
Eventually, the Irish Supreme Court
has little choice but to review the case and possibly declare the
law unconstitutional. There's something inherently moving about a
responsible caring father fighting to regain custody of his
children. In some ways, Brosnan's previous turns as James Bond
offhandedly work in his favor. Whereas 007 would do anything in his
power to deny paternity, Desmond longs for it, so it's almost like
Bond has shaped up. It's a rare treat to hear Brosnan speak with his
native accent (he was born in County Meath), and apparently he's a
ringer for the real Desmond Doyle.
The rest of the film could have
used that sort of authenticity. Every now and then artificial
"sunlight" will glow, and one of the characters grins
because the "angel rays" are shining. With treacly bits
like this, the film's charm begins to erode. Had Beresford and
Pender chosen to tell the story in a more detached manner, it might
have been more involving because the two gradually bludgeon the
audience with sentimentality. Thankfully, the supporting cast is
more than solid, and, like a lot of other Irish movies, Evelyn
is visually gorgeous.
Having been raised a
German-American Protestant, I'm also curious about the way Evelyn
treats the Catholic Church. The film features an almost cartoonish
nun (Andrea Irvine) who abuses the children in the name of the Lord.
I wondered how realistic this depiction of Irish Catholicism was.
There may have been nuns that fanatical running the orphanages, but
with all the scorn the Church has faced lately, the last thing they
need is unfair stereotypes. Fortunately, many of the clergy depicted
in the film eagerly help out Desmond Doyle and his children. Still,
as I watched the movie, I couldn't help but think about how
politicians and religious leaders are spouting all sorts of
platitudes about family. It's sadly ironic that these same two
groups can be unwittingly harmful to the institution they praise.
PG - Parental
Some material may
not be appropriate for