The setting is Ireland in the 1950s, and Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) is an unemployed painter living in poverty with his wife and three kids, including oldest daughter Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur). When his spouse leaves the homestead for another man’s arms, the government orders Desmond’s children to be taken away from him, and placed in Catholic-run orphanages. Desperate to retrieve his children, Desmond scrapes together enough money to hire some lawyers (Stephen Rea and Aidan Quinn), and soon captures the Irish nation’s heart as his case, which was ground breaking at the time, is played out in the daily press.
The James Bond series has been very good to Pierce Brosnan, but it’s the little films he chooses in between the 007 blockbusters, like the new “Evelyn,” (IMDb listing) that give Brosnan a real chance to act. As terrific as he is as Bond, Brosnan’s work in “Evelyn” is better. He juggles his character, which involves playing drunken despair mixed with undying love for his children, with amazingly little effort, bringing real pathos to both sides. It’s a complex role, in a very artless, but gentle film.
Even with Brosnan’s excellent work, and the picture’s overall willingness to please in places, I was left feeling pretty manipulated by “Evelyn.” Director Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy,” “Double Jeopardy”) tries his damnedest to make the picture into a rousing crowd pleaser, even if it means tearing out the integrity that is built in by the performances and the story itself. Beresford tries to interject various moments of magic into the film, including an aside in which Evelyn can see her dead grandfather’s presence in the twinkly rays of the sun. Admittedly, an endearing idea, but handled here in such a shamelessly manipulative manner that it was hard not to gag.
There are also more than a handful of plot threads that dangle rather annoyingly throughout the film. Beresford and writer Paul Pender get far too distracted with the court case to make other pieces of the puzzle fit properly, including Desmond’s out-of-nowhere romantic entanglements with a local barmaid (Julianna Margulies), and the plight of Evelyn’s two younger brothers, who simply disappear for long periods of time. I understand that the film is called “Evelyn,” but there is a bigger story here than just a little girl, with Beresford keeping the film from significance by not keeping an eye on all the dangling subplots.
“Evelyn” has an amiability that is hard to resist, even though the filmmakers do their best to muck up the purity of heart on display here. If you can get past the trite touches, and just enjoy the fine performances here, then this is a decent and kind slice of Irish history pie.
Filmfodder Grade: B-