EVELYN

Directed by Bruce Beresford. USA. 2002.


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Evelyn, a film by the Australian director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies) dramatizes the struggle of unemployed painter and decorator Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) to regain custody of his three children after they had been removed from him and sent to Catholic orphanages. Loosely based on a true story and a landmark case in the Supreme Court of Ireland, the film is set in Dublin in 1953. As it opens, Doyle and his wife are celebrating Christmas with their three children, Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur), Dermot ((Niall Beagan), and Maurice (Hugh McDonough). He has recently lost his job and spends his nights drinking at the local pub, circumstances that lead to his wife taking off with another man for Australia the next day. 

Desmond vows to take care of the children as best he can, but they are removed by a judge who follows an Irish law that allows a court to remove children from a household without means of support. Doyle promises that he will raise money by singing at a local pub with his father (Frank Kelly) after the court erroneously tells him that he can get his children back if he shows enough income to support them. Dermot and Maurice are sent to live with priests and Evelyn is taken to a Catholic orphanage. It is here that the film veers off into questionable territory with an exaggerated depiction of the really "good" Sister Felicity (Karen Ardiff) and the really "bad" Sister Brigid (Andrea Irvine), who slaps the little girl after she complains about the abuse of another child in class. 

To cope with her loneliness, Evelyn recalls the words of her grandfather who told her that whenever she sees the rays of sunlight, a guardian angel is looking after her (qualifying the film for an episode of Touched by an Angel). Evelyn tells her dad about the incident and he shows up at the orphanage threatening the nun with physical harm if she ever again touches his daughter, an incident that later comes back to plague him. On the recommendation of Bernadette (Julianna Margulies), a local barmaid, Doyle hires her brother Michael Beattie (Stephen Rea) as his lawyer and Beattie promptly tells him that family law in Ireland is a conspiracy between church and state. Eventually, two other lawyers are retained: Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn) and Tom Connelly (Alan Bates), a retired rugby player and expert on family law. Connelly is an eccentric who has a reputation for taking on difficult cases. Since Doyle's finances have improved, the lawyers petition the court to release the children in the father's custody but are told that the law requires a signed release by their mother, an impossibility being that her whereabouts are unknown. After the petition is denied, the triumvirate challenge the constitutionality of the Irish law in the Supreme Court and the film culminates in a taut dramatization of the trial.

Evelyn is a lightweight but charming film that is enhanced by the performance of the likable Pierce Brosnan and the wonderful Alan Bates. It's unfortunate, however, that Beresford has to rely on jaded Irish cliches of booze and blarney to enhance a story that is powerful enough to survive on its own merits. Doyle does not need to be made into Saint Desmond, and Sister Brigid does not have to become the Devil, probably for us to see the unfairness of the law. Yet in spite of its flaws, you can't help but root for the Capraesque quality of everyman Doyle and his fight for human rights against an oppressive system. Some Rocky music please.

Howard Schumann
 
 
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