Dir: Bruce Beresford. US-Ire. 2002. 94 mins.
Evelyn might well benefit from a worldwide roll-out in the wake of unlikely box office blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It has the same softness of touch, dearth of dramatic conflict and ethnic cutesiness which is obviously proving reassuring and heartwarming to millions in a world which is becoming increasingly unhinged. So while Evelyn is undistinguished and almost inane in its gentle desire to please, it is well-crafted and uplifting, qualities which cannot be under-estimated these days. If Greek Wedding has set a precedent for old-fashioned blarney, then UA and Overseas Filmgroup could have a minor hit on their hands, when the film opens in the US on Dec 13.
The project is a labour-of-love of sorts for Brosnan, who produced it and hired Bruce Beresford, director of the archetypally sweet movie Driving Miss Daisy, to direct it. He also admirably extends his acting range as Desmond Doyle, an unemployed painter/decorator with a fondness for Guinness and whiskey whose wife walks out one day, leaving him with the three kids. But when the courts confiscate the children and places them in orphanages, Doyle embarks on a legal campaign to get them back, while at the same time cleaning up his act and getting back to work. The film is based on a true story which took place in Dublin in 1953.
Central to the drama is Doyle's daughter Evelyn, played by an impossibly cute child actress called Sophie Vavasseur. While the two younger sons are put in one orphanage and barely glimpsed in the movie, Evelyn's plight is carefully detailed. She remains faithful to her father and gives his case a boost with her sheer god-fearing goodness. Even the nuns adore her, apart from the bad Sister Brigid (Andrea Irvine) who beats and torments her, although she too is eventually conquered by Evelyn's goodness. The little sweetheart also gleans help from rays of sunshine which conveniently appear from on high in times of need and which she interprets as her guardian angel - her late grandfather. Yes, it's that corny.
On Doyle's side back in Dublin are smart barmaid Bernadette Beattie (Julianna Margulies) who falls for Doyle, American lawyer Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn) who takes on the case because he has lost his own kids in a messy divorce, sceptical lawyer Michael Beattie (Stephen Rea) who is wary of going up against Church and state, and drunk old rugby player and law expert Tom Connolly (Alan Bates) who comes up with the notion of challenging the law itself.
While set in 1953, Evelyn could indeed have been made in 1953 by John Ford, maybe, or Frank Capra. It's so from-another-time that you expect Barry Fitzgerald or Maureen O'Hara to walk on screen any moment - more The Quiet Man than the harsh reality we have come to expect from Irish-set period movies like The Butcher Boy or Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters. But then again, that style was clearly the intent of Beresford and Brosnan, and uncynical older audiences won't object.
Prod cos: Irish Dreamtime, CineEvelyn, United Artists, First Look Media, Cinerenta
US dist: United Artists
Int'l sales: Overseas Filmgroup
Exec prods: Eberhard Kayser, Mario Ohoven, Kieran Corrigan, Simon Bosanquet
Prods: Pierce Brosnan, Beau St Clair, Michael Ohoven
Scr: Paul Pender
Cinematography: Andre Fleuren
Prod des: John Stoddart
Ed: Humphrey Dixon
Music: Stephen Endelman
Main cast: Brosnan, Aidan Quinn, Julianna Margulies, Stephen Rea, John Lynch, Alan Bates, Sophie Vavasseur, Frank Kelly