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Father battles the church in 'Evelyn'

Friday, January 17, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Almost nothing that happens in the true-life drama "Evelyn" will surprise you. That's both a strength and a weakness.


RATING: PG for thematic material and language.

STARRING: Pierce Brosnan, Julianna Margulies, Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn.

DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford.


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The movie tells the story of Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan, who also produced the film), who in 1953 took the unprecedented and seemingly quixotic step of suing the Irish government and the Catholic Church (considered indistinguishable by many) for the return of his own children.

Doyle's wife had simply walked out on the family one morning. After his hapless attempts to rear them himself and to find steady work, the church invokes its legal right to take the children away and place them in religious orphanages.

In outrage, he vows court action. But everyone considers it a lost cause -- the power of the church and the government is considered too great -- except Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn), an American lawyer of Irish descent.

You know from the start how this must end -- there's precious little market for Goliath-beats-David tales. But director Bruce Beresford, working from a screenplay by Paul Pender based on the memories of Doyle's daughter Evelyn, invests the movie with that cozy touch of blarney that makes people nostalgic for quaint Irish villages even if they've never set foot in the country.

Beresford, however, is no Frank Capra, judging from his unfortunate attempts to lay a thick brush of sentiment on the proceedings. Still, he doesn't pull his punches. The movie offers several scenes in which the children are severely mistreated. Desmond himself is no angel -- his chief fault is drowning his sorrows in booze.

True to the title, it is little Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) who wins the day, as cute and inspiring as Little Orphan Annie (but not nearly as annoying). Brosnan revels in a role that lets him shed 007 in favor of a shaggy underdog with a big heart. He is ably assisted by his co-stars, including Julianna Margulies as a sprightly barmaid, Stephen Rea as a woolly attorney and Alan Bates as a cantankerous courtroom veteran.

Beresford, who is Australian, cut his teeth on underdogs fighting impossible battles ("Breaker Morant") and troubled men finding grace in a small town's embrace ("Tender Mercies"). In that sense, "Evelyn" takes him back to his roots even if they lie nowhere near the Auld Sod. Ah, but we're all suckers for the luck of the Irish and the lure of the toora loora.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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