In 1950s Ireland, Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) is down on his luck. He has no job, few prospects of getting one, and three children to support since his philandering wife ran out on him. Well-meaning neighbours call the authorities, and it's not long before the courts are involved. The children, Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur), Dermot (Niall Beagan) and Maurice (Hugh McDonagh) are sent to Catholic orphanages, where Desmond has no say in their upbringing. Desmond starts drowning his sorrows at the local pub, but Bernadette Beattie (Julianna Margulies), a kindly barmaid, arranges for him to meet with her brother Michael (Stephen Rea), who happens to be a lawyer. Michael Beattie enlists the help of his barrister friend Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn) in a David-and-Goliath legal battle against the forces of the Irish state and the Catholic Church.
Review by David Edwards:
It's taken a while for Australian director Bruce Beresford's 2002 feature Evelyn to reach these shores, but anything from him is certainly worth a look. Evelyn is a film that's easy to watch, despite its potentially depressing subject matter, and that definitely has its heart in the right place.
It starts out as something of a tear-jerker, with the Doyle family being ripped apart. From there though, it settles into a nice rhythm as a courtroom drama, complete with the likeable Desmond as the underdog battling an entrenched and unsympathetic system. What distinguishes this film from many American films of its ilk is that Beresford knows when to lighten the mood with well-placed humour. From Desmond's homespun (and sometimes inapt) aphorisms to the whiskey-swigging ex-rugby footballer hired as a consultant in the case, the film never wallows in the characters' misery, instead imbuing the proceedings with a lighter, more hopeful mood.
The script by Peter Pender is fairly tight, although it does start to develop a couple of sub-plots before abandoning them unresolved, and a couple of the courtroom moments seem a little incongruous. The ending (which, of course, is never really in doubt) is rather treacly, and more than a little unrealistic. That said though, it's a hard person who won't be moved by it. This is the Bruce Beresford of Driving Miss Daisy, not Breaker Morant. He knows how to push buttons and that's exactly what this film delivers, even if it feels rather contrived at times.
The one factor above all others though that keeps Evelyn out of TV movie territory is the terrific cast. Pierce Brosnan, playing very much against his recent typecasting, is surprisingly good as Desmond. While it's initially a little difficult to accept him as a hopeless drunk, his performance certainly lifts as the film progresses. American actress Julianna Margulies is also good as the Irish colleen Bernadette, while Aidan Quinn doesn't have to struggle with an Irish accent as the Irish-American Barron. Stephen Rea gives a restrained but purposeful performance as Beattie, and young Sophie Vavasseur is suitably angelic as Evelyn.
While Evelyn might not be Bruce Beresford's finest achievement in his illustrious career, it is nonetheless an engaging, gentle drama. It offers few surprises, but the strength of the performances, and Beresford's touch as a director make it a worthwhile diversion.
Review by Louise Keller:
Quietly rousing and commendable for its lack of sensationalism, Evelyn is a heart-warming story of courage, faith and love. Told simply and effectively, Bruce Beresford handles the David and Goliath elements in an understated way, allowing us to identify closely with this true story based on the groundbreaking Irish 1953 court case. This is a love story - of the love between a father and his children, a story of romantic love and how the Irish legal system was challenged. It's an excellent script that brings pathos with some moments of naturally inspired humour.
There is absolutely no connection with Pierce Brosnan's ale-loving out-of-work painter/decorator and his suave James Bond characters, and Brosnan bares himself emotionally. Camera angles are not intended to flatter, and every facial line and wrinkle are clearly on display. This is, after all, the story of a desperate man - in desperate times. And Brosnan performs his own vocals, as his Desmond Doyle sings rousing Irish tunes in the pub, to the accompaniment of his father's plaintive fiddle.
When we first meet Doyle, he has the air of a man who was been squashed by life. Financial and marital pressures are compounded when his three children are taken away to church-run institutions. There are heartbreaking scenes as nine year old Evelyn is dragged against her will by less than sympathetic nuns, whose rules are non-negotiable and often primitive. Evelyn is firmly told she must sleep on her back with her arms crossed, and is forbidden to sleep on her side, lest to tempt Lucifer. Although two nuns are portrayed badly - 'Sister Brigid could put the fear of death in a corpse' (Andrea Irvine is formidable) - there is a balance and Karen Ardiff's loving Sister Felicity manages (more or less) to restore our shattered faith.
Casting is solid with Julianna Margulies sympathetic as Desmond's inspiration Bernadette, Stephen Rea as the small-town solicitor, Aidan Quinn as the chivalrous American lawyer vying for Bernadette's affections, and the wonderful Alan Bates as the retired family law specialist who champions St Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases. Sophie Vavasseur is perfect as Evelyn - she is as cute as a button with soulful eyes, a smattering of cheeky freckles and a manner that is anything but affected.
Help comes from surprising sources, including an unexpected sweepstake at the track and a sports commentator, who dabbles in other things. Tension builds as the final court case is in progress, but it's little Evelyn's response in the witness box that wins our heart.
Emotions are stripped bare as the court verdict is broadcast live on the radio - to the waiting crowd and Desmond's children at school. This is the moment when we learn that the word 'however' does not always mean 'no', but is totally dependent on how many times it is said.
Beresford avoids sentimentality right until the very end; the final scenes simply act as a visual shortcut to show what the future holds. Evelyn is a warm and uplifting film that deserves an audience.
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(USA / Germany / Ireland / Netherlands / UK)
CAST: Pierce Brosnan, Aiden Quinn, Stephen Rea, Julianna Margulies, Sophie Vavasseur
PRODUCER: Pierce Brosnan, Michael Ohoven, Beau St. Clair
DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford
SCRIPT: Paul Pender
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andre Fleuren
EDITOR: Humphrey Dixon
MUSIC: Stephen Endelman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Stoddart
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 6, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: September 22, 2002