Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates and Laura Linney head this long-gestating drama set in 1960s Ireland
Dir: Thaddeus O’Sullivan. Ireland/UK. 2023. 91mins
An ensemble cast led by Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates and Laura Linney brings persuasive conviction to period heartwarmer The Miracle Club, the story of a group of women on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. A celebration of friendship and forgiveness served up with warmth and gentle humour, this long-gestating passion project will hope to attract the older demographic who supported the similarly feel-good Mrs Harris Goes To Paris on its theatrical release around a similar date last year. Sony Pictures Classics holds a number of international territories, with festival screenings at Tribeca and Galway followed by a US release on July 14. Lionsgate will release in the UK on September 29.
An alluring ensemble cast brings persuasive conviction to this period heartwarmer
The Miracle Club has managed to retain the commitment of Smith, Bates and director Thaddeus O’Sullivan over the past two decades of attempted production. Once entitled ‘Pushers Needed’, it is set in the fictional Irish village of Ballygar in 1967, a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone’s business and the past casts a lengthy shadow; the elderly Lily (Smith) devotedly visits a memorial to the teenage son she lost in 1927. Production designer John Hand makes a valuable contribution to establishing the 1960s period and the working-class community. Interiors have an authentic look from the colourful wallpapers to the standard lamps, comfy sofas and familiar prints gracing soft terracotta walls.
Chrissie (Linney) is the returning prodigal who ruffles everyone’s feathers. “I didn’t leave, I was banished,” she says at one point. Sporting a brightly coloured wardrobe, she is home from America – for the first time in 40 years – for her mother’s funeral, an event that nobody had expected her to attend. Former best friend Eileen (Bates) is full of bitter resentment. The looks that pass between them offer a wonderful display of the emotion that can be conveyed without a word of dialogue.
The irrepressible Ballygar women are true believers and heading to Lourdes in search of a miracle. Lily seeks a sense of peace. Eileen is worried about the lump on her breast. Eileen’s daughter Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) is desperate for her silent young son to speak for the first time. Chrissie makes the impulsive decision to join them on the pilgrimage.
There is some comic capital from the left-behind husbands (Stephen Rea, Niall Buggy, Mark McKenna) tackling the unfamiliar challenges of shopping, cooking and changing nappies. The main focus remains on the women, however - the ties that have bound them together in the past and whether they can find a path to reconciliation. It is a tale where they may not find the miracle they want, but the miracle they need.
Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan (December Bride, Ordinary Decent Criminal, Call The Midwife etc) presides over a polished, appealing production that is resourceful in the way it makes use of what are clearly limited resources. Filmed in Ireland, the visit to Lourdes is confidently handled with the famous grotto recreated in Ardmore Studios.
The film’s tight running time means, however, that it can feel a little broad brushstrokes in its storytelling. The home truths, heart-to-heart conversations and revelations about long ago events are largely predictable; you wish for room to explore the characters and what they have endured. Yet events still carry an emotional charge thanks to the skill of the cast. Tart-tongued insults and brittle defences gradually fall to reveal the softer, more vulnerable sides of the characters and all three principals convey those transitions with a sincerity that is hard to resist.
Production companies: Zephyr Films, City Films Entertainment, Ingenious Media
International sales: Embankment Films. email@example.com
Producers: Chris Curling, Joshua D. Maurer, Alexandre Witlin, Larry Bass, Aaron Farrell, John Gleeson, Oisin O’Neill
Screenplay: Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, Joshua D. Maurer
Cinematography: John Conroy
Production design: John Hand
Editing: Alex Mackie
Music: Edmund Butt
Main cast: Maggie Smith, Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Agnes O’Casey