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EVELYN(director: Bruce Beresford; screenwriter: Paul Pender; cinematographer: Andre Fleuren; editor: Humphrey Dixon; music: Stephen Endelman; cast: Pierce Brosnan (Desmond Doyle), Julianna Margulies (Bernadette Beattie), Sophie Vavasseur (Evelyn Doyle), Aidan Quinn (Nick Barron), Stephen Rea (Michael Beattie), Alan Bates (Thomas Connolly), John Lynch (Mr. Wolfe), Hugh McDongagh (Maurice), Niall Beagan (Dermot), Karen Ardiff (Sister Felicity), Andrea Irvine (Sister Brigid), Frank Kelly (Henry Doyle), Conor Evans (Justice Ferris), Eileen Colgan (Mrs. Daisley); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Pierce Brosnan/Beau St. Clair/Michael Ohoven; UA; 2002)
“Since this film is based on an injustice that really happened and changed Ireland’s law that separates children from their parents, it’s wonderful to see that the good guys defeated the meanies in the end.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

James Bond portrayer Pierce Brosnan takes on a different type of role in this human interest story, as he fights to regain his three kids taken from him and placed in a Catholic Church-run orphanage when his wife deserts him in 1953 Dublin. It’s based on a true story that is filled with sentimentality. But because its heart-rendering tale for justice is so appealing to one’s sense of what’s fair it becomes easy to overlook the film’s predictability, lack of drama, and manipulations to bring tears to the viewer’s eyes. Since this film is based on an injustice that really happened and changed Ireland’s law that separates children from their parents, it’s wonderful to see that the good guys defeated the meanies in the end. That result is the best thing about the film and makes it watchable in a similar way one roots for their favorite sports team to win.

Director Bruce Beresford (“Tender Mercies“/”Driving Miss Daisy“) guides this schmaltzy tale along a manageable course, where the sweetness of the loving children is pitted against the senseless nature of such an intransigent law and the court authorities who rigidly rule by the book instead of by the spirit of the law.

Brosnan plays a salty character named Desmond Doyle, who is saddled with a drinking problem; he’s an unemployed painter and decorator with no money, no job, but with three kids he loves more than anything else in the world — the oldest is his 9-year-old lovely daughter Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) and Dermot and Maurice are his two boys (who have very little film time). Desmond wakes up the day after Christmas to find his sulking wife deserted him he believes for a fancy English man and leaves no forwarding address, but is somewhere in Australia. Desmond’s heartless mother-in-law (Colgan) reports the situation to the authorities, blaming his drinking habits for why her daughter left him. Under the archaic Family Act of 1941, the state has a right to take his children away if he can’t support them and his wife fails to give her consent for their release. The church and state are in bed together with this law, and so in order for him to win his case his lawyer would have to get the court to find the law repugnant–something that’s compared with David fighting Goliath. As a result the boys are sent to the Christian Brothers’ orphanage and Evelyn is sent to St. Joseph’s, where she’s beaten by a repulsive nun named Sister Brigid (Irvine). Evelyn’s also gently nourished by the kindly Sister Felicity, as a sort of balancing act to show the church’s worst and best sides. Evelyn believes in the power of pray and in forgiveness of her enemies and the goodness of God, and is comparable to an angel. When visited by her kindly granddad, Henry Doyle (Frank Kelly), he tells Evelyn there are angel rays that gather as light around her fingers as God’s way of having guardian angels to watch over her. This seems to comfort her in her time of duress, though for the viewer this shameless ploy might be a bit much blarney to swallow on top of all the other syrupy mixtures that get poured into this tale.

Desmond fawns over sexy barmaid Bernadette Beattie (Julianna Margulies) in his favorite pub, and she responds by telling him to seek the help of her solicitor brother, Michael (Stephen Rea), to try and win his kids back. She also tells him she won’t take him as a serious suitor unless he handles his drinking problem and starts working. The solicitor takes the case but is misled by the lower courts, who indicated Desmond could get back the kids if he got employment. But the letter of the law says the court needs the consent of both parents to release the children to him.

With the aid of Irish-American barrister, Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn),who is needed because he can speak in court while the solicitor can’t, they file an appeal. For this argument to the highest court, they get a former national rugby champion who became a lawyer specializing in family court cases to be a consultant, the raffish Tom Connolly (Alan Bates). Tom takes the case even though he’s retired because he’s touched by the situation.

The battles with the court and the eventual upset decision are doggedly presented but offer no surprises. The film can’t help but win the viewer over to its side of the law-that’s a slam dunk-but it also wins the viewer over by the spunk and spirit and sweetness Evelyn exhibits and also because Desmond Doyle proves to be a most likable chap with a big heart for his children. Both characters show how inhuman such a law is and do it an even better way than a reading of the verdict in their favor could have.

REVIEWED ON 12/28/2002 GRADE: C +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”