Political Film Society - Evelyn

PFS Film Review


Evelyn When Evelyn begins, Desmond Doyle (played by Pierce Brosnan) is celebrating Christmas together with his wife and their three children in Dublin; the year is 1953. Earlier, Desmond lost his job and had been spending so much time drinking at the local pub that his wife saw greener pastures with another man, and she leaves with him for Australia right after Christmas. When the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children finds out, Doyle accepts the assistance of nuns, who clean his flat and prepare meals for his children, but he appears in court one day to hear a judge order the reassignment of his children to homes run by the Catholic church. According to an Irish law passed in 1941, children living in households without income to support them can become wards of the state. Although Doyle promises to raise funds by singing in pubs to the musical accompaniment of his father (played by Frank Kelly), and he expects a job opening in a few months, the judge falsely tells him that the reassignment is temporary, presumably until he can provide the means to support his children. As his solicitor Michael Beattie (played by Stephen Rea) indicates, family law in Ireland is a conspiracy between church and state. One day, Evelyn writes to tell him about being slapped by Sister Brigid (played by Andrea Irvine) when she objected to corporal punishment being performed on one of her classmates, provoking Doyle to go to see his daughter, to choke the nun, and to threaten her with bodily harm if she were ever again to abuse his daughter. Meanwhile, Doyle's financial situation improves, so he asks his solicitor to reclaim his children, and indeed three lawyers team up to help, including barrister Nick Barron (played by Aidan Quinn) and Tom Connelly (played by Alan Bates), an expert on family law who had retired as a barrister two years earlier. But the law requires a signed release by a mother to have children return to their father, an impossibility since Doyle has no knowledge of wife's new address. Accordingly, Doyle's petition is denied. Afterward, Connelly decides to challenge the constitutionality of the Irish law, though hitherto no Irish law had ever been held unconstitutional. Then Doyle's case attracts the attention of the press, and public sympathy is on his side. The film thus culminates in a trial before the Supreme Court, in which the pious testimony of his daughter Evelyn (played by Sophie Vavasseur) humbles the prosecutor. By a vote of 2-1 the law is declared unconstitutional. Doyle gets back his children, and others are to be freed based on the same precedent. A title at the end indicates that the law was amended to provide for single-parent custody of children. The film caters to many Irish stereotypes--drinking, joking, singing, and most importantly fighting for principle. And there is a love triangle, but again justice prevails. Directed by Bruce Beresford (nominated for a Political Film Society award in 1991 for Driving Miss Daisy) and based on a true story, Evelyn has been nominated by the Political Film Society as best film exposé and best film on human rights for 2002. MH

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