Evelyn (Ireland, 2002) ***
Directed by Bruce Beresford. Written by Paul Pender. Photography, André Fleuren, Humphrey Dixon. Music, Stephen Endelman. Produced by Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair and Michael Ohoven. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Aidan Quinn, Julianna Margulies, Stephen Rea, Sophie Vavasseur, Alan Bates, et al. A United Artists release. 94 minutes. PG.
A warm, productive second collaboration of actor Pierce Brosnan (born in Ireland) and director Bruce Beresford (born in Australia.)
Brosnan is popular, mostly because he is, at this writing, the last --and in the eyes of many the least-- James Bond. I am not familiar enough with his TV work to judge it. As for his movie-movie career, it is patchy to say the least: cf. the third, weak version of "Love Affair"; cf. the indifferent remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair"; and so on. But as I remember it, the made-in-Nigeria filmization of Joyce Cary's novel "Mister Johnson" was excellent though shamefully neglected. Its director was Bruce Beresford.
Beresford is one of my favorites. He was revealed to me and others by the award-winning yet little-seen "Don's Party" (Australia, 1976) a wild, satirical comedy of Aussies gathered on an election night. Still, it his "The Getting of Wisdom," "Breaker Morant," and "The Fringe Dwellers" that really put Beresford on the international map. His American movies "Crimes of the Heart" and "Driving Miss Daisy" made major splashes, but the witty "Her Alibi" and the masterful "Black Robe" (Australia/Canada, 1991) were critical but not financial hits.
Set in Ireland in 1953 "Evelyn" is based on real facts. Desmond Doyle (Brosnan) is a proletarian, a sort of handy-man, house-painter, plasterer and such. Also a drinker, though not a true alcoholic. He is married, has three charming children, the first-born Evelyn (Vavasseur) and two boys.
Coinciding with financial straits is the sudden departure of Desmond's spouse who sneaks out with a presumably rich lover. Desmond dotes on his kids but the inspecting nuns find him unfit and ineligible as a parent, so that the children are placed in Catholic orphanages. Desmond claims them but the Children's Act of 1941 requires the consent of both parents - and the official Mrs. Doyle is nowhere to be seen. Desmond's appeal to the law nets him wrong advice. There starts a desperate battle of underdog Desmond against the authorities. Tentative legal assistance comes from a friendly barmaid's (Julianna Margulies) brother (Stephen Rea) who is a solicitor. But a barrister is also needed, and is found in the person of an Irish-American (Aidan Quinn.) Even then more help is required, and a curmudgeonly, retired legal eagle (Alan Bates, superbly colorful and hardly recognizable) is talked into joining the club.
Episodes centering on Evelyn, on a nasty nun and on some very nice ones, add drama, pathos and suspense. The film becomes a gripping, colorful courtroom drama, develops with steadily increasing warmth, and --I'll let the cat out of the bag-- the outcome is expectedly feel-good. Also historic, as the infamous clause of the Children's Act is repealed. No doubt the movie has undergone embellishments and changes in its details, but it does ring true and is splendidly played by all concerned. Evelyn is lovable. So are Desmond's friends and helpers. The balance of the cast is very able. And for a change, Mr. Brosnan is authentically Irish and wonderfully human. All this amounts to what will no doubt be labeled "an old-fashioned movie," which it is, in the best sense of the word.