Here at last we have a movie for the Christmas season that is genuinely a family film, a heartwarming work with a strong sense of morality and justice.
“Evelyn” surprisingly not only stars Mr. James Bond – Pierce Brosnan – it is produced by him, as well. Bruce Beresford, the brilliant Australian-born director (“Breaker Morant,” “Black Robe,” “Tender Mercies”) so often an Academy-Award nominee, perfectly captures Ireland and its mores of the 1950s.
It is based on a true story of how one simple Irish father devoted to his children succeeds in winning custody by changing the Irish Constitution. Desmond Doyle (Brosnan) is a poor house painter currently out of work, unable to give proper Christmas presents to his three children. He and his wife are argumentative, although he does his best to shield the children from their disputes.
Brosnan as the scruffy, ill-groomed Irish workman speaking with an authentic brogue is about as removed from the polished, sophisticated James Bond making millions at the box office these days in “Die Another Day” as any actor could get. And Brosnan to his credit is utterly convincing as this ragged, miserable, desperate father.
The day after Christmas, looking out the window, 9-year-old Evelyn sees her mother hurrying down the street with a suitcase. The child, thinking her mother’s gone shopping, runs after her to remind her shops are closed that day. She follows her until she sees her mother embracing a man and getting into a car to drive off together.
Doyle’s mother-in-law, who has never liked him for what she perceives as his shiftless ways, reports her daughter’s departure to the authorities who promptly seize the children. The two little boys are consigned to a church school run by priests and little Evelyn to a convent school in the countryside. Literally ripped from their father’s protesting arms, sobbing heartbrokenly, the children are driven off.
Going to court, Doyle learns the rule of the land is that both parents must agree to a custody agreement. Doyle protests he doesn’t even know where his wife is. To no avail. The magistrate suggests that he might listen to him again if Doyle can establish that at least he can financially provide for the children.
He spends too much time in pubs, losing himself miserably in drink. Taking umbrage at a priest collecting for charity one night, Doyle attacks him because of what he represents in the Church’s role in depriving him of his children. The priest lays him out with one well-directed blow to the chin (far, far away from the two-fisted James Bond image). As Doyle is coming to, the priest allows as, “At the seminary, I was the boxing champion.”
In an effort to earn a little money, Doyle with his aged father playing the fiddle performs nights in a neighborhood pub, singing Irish songs. It sounds like Brosnan’s own voice, and an appealing baritone it is, too. The friendly barmaid has a solicitor cousin, Stephen Rea, who takes interest in Doyle’s case, as does an American lawyer (Aidan Quinn) – conveniently born in Ireland so he can practice in an Irish court.
Interspersed with the scenes of Doyle’s travails in court, we cut mainly to Evelyn in the convent school. While there are some kind, sweet nuns, there is one fierce sister who is a severe disciplinarian. After administering a ruler slap to the hand of one little girl for some minor infraction, the nun takes Evelyn to severe task for having defended her chum.
Evelyn writes to her father about it, and Doyle comes charging into the school brutally grabbing the offending nun by the throat threatening real damage if she doesn’t leave his daughter alone.
In the big court scene where Doyle and his defenders decide to take on the Irish constitution because they realize they will never win against the Irish state and the Catholic Church, Evelyn plays a key role in winning the alteration to the constitution.
Is there a wee touch of the sentimental about the film? Well, yes, a bit. But the heart and warmth and devotion is so strong, you can easily forgive Beresford and Brosnan. Is the film a touch soft on the Catholic Church? A little, but we do get the rigid, fanatical nun and many references in the dialogue as to how the Church is interfering in family lives with the complicity of the state. But the film’s a long way from being an anti-clerical screed.
What with extreme violence and gore dominating our yuletide screens – witness “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Die Another Day” and “Gangs of New York” as a few major examples – families must be really grateful to Brosnan for “Evelyn.” More power to Pierce Brosnan for turning his mighty star power to a work of simple dignity and worthy values. Hopefully, he is setting an example that his brothers in Hollywood will follow.