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1953. Desmond Doyle is devastated when his wife abandons their family on the day after Christmas. His unemployment and the fact that there is no woman in the house to care for the children, Evelyn, Dermot and Maurice, make it clear to the authorities that his is an untenable situation. The Irish courts put the Doyle children into Church-run orphanages. Although a sympathetic judge assures Desmond that he'll get his children back after he gets a job, he learns there's another barrier. During that time, Evelyn suffers abuse while Desmond goes to court to get his children back. A barmaid, her brother, her suitor, and a tippling footballer become Desmond's team. Written by
Evelyn's mother is said to have gone to Australia with her lover, but in reality, she went to England and ended up raising another family there. The real Evelyn Doyle eventually saw her mother on more than one occasion, but they never reconciled. See more »
When the man from SPCC was speaking with Doyle, a woman behind Doyle hung the same pair of pants on the line twice. See more »
Those of us who endured the gruelling "Angela's Ashes" a few years back probably came away with the impression that living in 1950s Ireland was like living in hell, or maybe slightly worse. We were treated to the dysfunctional family to end all: the father was a mean drunk, the mother was nuts, the kids were brats, their relatives were all vicious (or nuts), they were poorer than dirt, they lived under the heel of a Stalinist Catholic Church, and it NEVER STOPPED RAINING. I left the cinema wondering not why so many Irish had left their country, but why any had stayed.
Now along comes "Evelyn" which also is about poor people in 1950s Ireland, but this seems to be the Hallmark greeting card version. The father (played by Pierce Brosnan using, I imagine, his native accent) does drink, but he's not at all mean about it, his kids are angelic and the mother who abandons them only gets about five minutes of screen time and is soon forgotten. There are relatives who may not like one another but are united in their love for the kids (an enjoyable scene has Evelyn, the daughter, running back and forth conveying messages between two of them). There are a lot of well-meaning friends and acquaintances. They live in a nice home and don't seem to be starving or barefoot. It almost seems no big deal when the mother leaves; if anything, one supposes what little money they have will go further, with one fewer mouth to feed (there's an obligatory scene with Brosnan versus a boiling pot because, of course, all men are morons in the kitchen).
So it seems a little odd when government minions step in and announce that nice Mr. Doyle whose wife left him can't keep his kids any more. Now I know this is based on a true story and I know from other sources there was indeed a vast orphanage gulag (complete with slave labor) in Ireland, partly so that church and state could pretend it's possible to have a functioning country without divorce or abortion (and there was always nearby England). Some of that background would have been fascinating in "Evelyn," but maybe too depressing. So we just have to accept that here's this quaint country with this goofy law arbitrarily taking people's kids away. Doyle readily accedes to the removal, then abruptly wants them back. His efforts make up the remainder of the movie.
The problem here is what psychologists call "cognitive dissonance": on the one hand we're constantly reminded that the struggle of Doyle and his supporters against the church/state hierarchy is "hopeless," on the other hand, there's never really a sensation of hopelessness or desperation. There's a kind of amiable smoothness to the events, and frequent humorous moments. This may be partly due to the guiding hand of director Bruce Beresford who has never met a dramatic situation that he couldn't make cozy, whether it was the Boer War in "Breaker Morant," Southern racial tensions in "Driving Miss Daisy," capital punishment in "Last Dance" or Japanese POW camps in "Paradise Road," the latter also with J. Margulies from "ER." The orphanages in which the kids live don't even seem that unpleasant aside from one fascistic nun whose misdeeds get exposed anyway. The real horror of the Irish orphanage gulag was that it was swept under the rug for decades. This movie functions under a "sunshine law," literally; I don't want to "spoil" the big climactic scene for anyone, but let's just say that if they ever do another version of "Alice in Wonderland," spunky little Sophie Vavasseur is just the one to stand up (and up, and up) and tell all the high muckamucks they're all just a pack of cards.
I hope this isn't making it seem I didn't enjoy the movie; quite the contrary. I especially liked the ordinary-joe quality of Brosnan's Doyle, neither sinister nor saintly, fumbling his way toward becoming a better man for his kids' sake. If anything, I wish they'd given him a few more "warts," if only to make the point that if a parent is not clearly abusing his or her kids, then those kids belong with the parent, and not with the sodding government, or church. Nice to see some of my favorites like Stephen Rea and Aidan Quinn and Alan Bates being such good sports. Julianna M. gets probably her most "normal" film role yet, and shows (at least to me) why she should be a major star. She exudes realness. When male characters contend for her, I buy it. Can't say that about every actress, some of whom probably get paid a lot more for their roles (sorry, Sandra Bullock).
Basically this is a "feel-good" flick, and we can always use those. But like the orphans still behind the walls at the end, there is a darker theme still waiting for it's moment in the sun.
By the way, dog-racing's not a very nice thing either.
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