Evelyn is a movie that is almost diametrically opposite in its emotional impact from House of Sand and Fog. It is a movie that should make you feel good. Evelyn has some of the same messages as the other movie: the oppressive nature of the state, its perversion of “good intentions,” its destructive impact on families. However, in Evelyn, the “white hats” have a victory.
Evelyn, which is based on a true story, is set in Ireland in the 1950’s. It is the story of Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) and his family and what happens after his wife abandons him and their children. The Irish state and the Roman Catholic Church have a very close relationship. The overarching paternalism in 1950’s Ireland of both Church and State is aligned and very powerful in its impact on society.
The movie starts by showing what might be typical days for the Doyle family, but things quickly change from the typical when Desmond’s wife leaves him. She apparently has tired of their family life, gives no notice and is suddenly gone. At this point the story might sound a bit like Kramer vs. Kramer and it is the story of a father struggling to raise his children, but the two movies have little more than that in common.
Desmond is left with three children and no job. To “aid” his family the state responds to a complaint from his mother-in-law and takes custody of his children, giving them to the Church until he can find a way to support them. The children are separated: the two boys going to one orphanage and Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) going to another, run by Nuns.
When the movie begins Desmond is not really a very responsible parent. However, he starts to change that by working the pubs singing (Brosnan does a reasonable job of singing) with his father (Frank Kelly) who plays the violin/fiddle. He also takes as many jobs in his trade (house painter) as he can find. When his financial situation has improved he discovers that he cannot get his children back without his wife’s permission, which she is not available to give. Thus, even though he can now support the children, they are not returned to him.
While he is at work singing, Desmond meets Bernadette Beattie (Julianna Margulies) who is working as a barmaid at a pub in which he sings. He tells her of the plight of his family and she recommends her brother Michael (Stephen Rea), a solicitor, to help him. However, his case must be argued in court and for this he needs a barrister.
Also displaying a steady interest in Bernadette is Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn) who is a barrister. Eventually Nick too is moved by the plight of Desmond and his children and works on the case. Although he is a barrister, he is unfamiliar with family law. For this the team adds a curmudgeonly ex-rugby champion who did specialize in family law before he retired: Tom Connolly (Alan Bates).
Evelyn is directed by Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant). It never slows and although it is only an hour and half long, it seems to go even faster than that. There is a level of detail that is truly surprising for a film of such length. All the performances are excellent, but those of Pierce Brosnan (best of career is not too strong) as Desmond and Sophie Vavasseur as Evelyn are especially outstanding. If you are looking for a little lift, but not syrup, something to make you feel like maybe things are not as bad as they might seem after following the events of the day, then Evelyn ought to fill that need.