Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.
Release Date: December 25th, 2002 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Bruce Beresford Actors: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Vavasseur, Frank Kelly, Marian Quinn, Julianna Margulies, Bosco Hogan, Stephen Rea, Aidan Quinn, Alan Bates, John Lynch
n Dublin, Ireland, during Christmas Eve of 1953, three young siblings, headed up by Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) and followed by Dermot (Niall Beagan) and Maurice (Hugh Macdonagh), contend with the continual bickering of their parents. Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) and his wife Charlotte (Mairead Devlin) struggle to pretend, for the sake of their children, that nothing is wrong, but it’s clear that their marriage is suffering – in large part due to his lack of a job and the general economic climate of dire financial straits. Desmond even comes up with an excuse to the kids concerning scarce Christmas presents, claiming that Santa has to spend a lot of money to feed the elves.
The day after Christmas, Charlotte runs off without saying a word to her husband, her mother, or her children – even when Evelyn calls out to her as she rushes down the street and into a car with a man. Desmond isn’t thrilled to be suddenly alone, but he’s certain he can manage – until Inspector Logan (Alvaro Lucchesi) from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty toward Children insists that he receive help from the government. Despite sending in some nuns to clean up his house, the plan backfires when the court rules that until there’s a significant improvement in the domestic and financial status of his household, the Doyle children will be sent away to Catholic/state-run facilities.
In overwrought cinematic fashion, there are some immediate, emotionally overwhelming sequences to draw a few tears. Evelyn cries out as she watches her mother wordlessly run off; Desmond hugs his children on the steps of the courthouse as they plead to stay with him; and grandfather Henry (Frank Kelly) gets caught in Evelyn’s embrace as she’s left with the cold, emotionless sisters. Minutes later, a fellow ward explains that she’s been at the school for six years. “I won’t be here for very long. My daddy’s gonna come and get me,” insists Evelyn. “That’s what my dad told me,” replies the other girl, foreshadowing the worst possible fate should Desmond not be able to get his act together.
Vavasseur is sensational in the titular role, retaining engrossing optimism even when she becomes fully aware of the inconsistencies and cruelties in disciplinary actions, as well as knowledgeable about which nuns are her enemies (including Andrea Irvine as Sister Brigid, who repeats that “You must not tempt Lucifer!”). Her acting is convincing and her personality translates well to the part, never becoming sickly-sweet, even when the dialogue leans in that direction. Brosnan is also quite fitting, getting to make use of his native Irish accent and portraying a down-to-earth father far removed from his stint as 007. Supporting players such as Julianna Margulies, Stephen Rea, and Aidan Quinn are also appropriate, even if their roles are exceptionally commonplace in a film like this.
As Desmond battles legal pitfalls (mostly tied to outdated family law, no precedence for his specific situation, and corrupt judicial partnerships), ceaseless monetary conflicts, a never-ending war with alcohol, and escalating personal tragedies, the film starts to resonate with notes of “Kramer vs. Kramer” and even “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Although based on a powerful true story, the events play out with a questionable pacing, allowing some of the scenes to appear as formulaic and unoriginal. Other sequences unfold as if adapted directly from a casebook or courtroom footage (if it had existed at the time), pushing no boundaries in their presentation. Nevertheless, time is made for mild humor, light romance, and undeniably winning moments. Unfortunately, for every good decision the film makes, a few mushy, overly patriotic, conspicuously crowd-pleasing, or manipulatively suspenseful narrative choices edge in on the entertainment value.
– Mike Massie