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(2002) (Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Vavasseur) (PG)

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Drama: An unemployed man sets out to reclaim his children and change Irish law when the government removes his kids from his home after his wife leaves him for another man.
It's late 1953 and Desmond Doyle (PIERCE BROSNAN) is out of work. Things get worse when his wife, Charlotte (MAIREAD DEVLIN), leaves him for another man. Irish law dictates that a single, unemployed parent can't meet the demands of raising children and so the local authorities remove his three young kids, Evelyn (SOPHIE VAVASSEUR), Maurice (HUGH MacDONAGH) and Dermot (NIALL BEAGAN), from his custody.

With the boys off at an orphanage and Evelyn sent to St. Joseph's school in Dublin under the tutelage of Sisters Brigid (ANDREA IRVINE), Theresa (MARIAN QUINN) and Felicity (KAREN ARDIFF), Desmond tries to regain custody by finding odd jobs or singing at the local pub with his father, Henry (FRANK KELLY), and other musicians.

It's there that he meets Bernadette Beattie (JULIANNA MARGULIES). A pretty and part-time barmaid, she's drawn to Desmond and his plight, which turns out to be a lucky development for him since her brother, Michael (STEPHEN REA), is a lawyer. He, in turn, is good friends with Nick (AIDAN QUINN), an Irish-born American who's also fond of Bernadette, but decides to help Desmond due to knowing what it's like to lose custody of one's kids.

Despite the law stating that the consent of both parents is required to return Desmond's kids to him, Nick, Michael and former rugby star turned now-retired family law attorney Tom Connolly (ALAN BATES) attempt to have the courts rule in his favor. Unfortunately, the Minister of Education (MARK LAMBERT) does not intend to overturn the law.

From that point on and with the help of reporter Hugh Canning (BRIAN McGRATH), Desmond and his legal team then set out to change Irish law so that he can regain custody of his kids.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
With around half the marriages in the U.S. reportedly ending in divorce, it's no surprise that many kids end up being raised by just one parent or in some sort of dual custody arrangement. Imagine, however, if such a marital split resulted in children being removed from both parents and being sent off to an orphanage until they were sixteen.

That might seem unlikely in today's world, but it was once the case in Ireland. It seems that Irish law stated that a single, unemployed parent was not fit or able to raise their children in a proper manner and thus the government had the right and responsibility to remove said kids. That is, until a landmark legal case in the 1950s challenged that law and forever changed such custodial matters.

Writer Paul Pender (making his feature film debut) and director Bruce Beresford ("Bride of the Wind," "Double Jeopardy") have now brought that case and the central figure's quest to regain custody of his kids to the silver screen in "Evelyn." Named for the protagonist's precocious daughter, the film stars Pierce Brosnan in the lead role.

Not exactly known for playing father figures - after all, that's the antithesis of the James Bond persona with which he's now most associated - Brosnan is both believable and actually quite good in the part. That's a good sign for Brosnan ("Die Another Day," "The Tailor of Panama") whenever he decides to hang up the 007 persona.

The film is also rather enjoyable and entertaining as long as one doesn't mind its "feel good" stature, related sentimentality and overall predictable nature. While I won't give away the ending, let's just say that it won't surprise too many viewers, although it should end up pleasing many of them.

A classic David versus Goliath tale, the story follows Brosnan's character - who's based on the real-life figure - as he tries to do whatever is necessary to regain custody of his kids. Although there are three of them, the other half of the story focuses on the lone daughter -the titular Evelyn - and her coping with the drastic change in her life. With a solid and endearing performance by young newcomer Sophie Vavasseur in that role, the film's halves nicely balance each other, although the father's side gets the majority of the screen time.

Such familial disruption and the ensuing desperate custodial battle easily could have made for a wrenching and/or depressing affair. Thankfully, the filmmakers manage to inject enough humor into the proceedings to keep things from ever feeling overwhelming or more than only briefly sad.

Much of that stems from the children's paternal grandfather - played to utmost likableness by Frank Kelly ("Rat," "War of the Buttons") - having various bad, but funny things to say about their absent mother and the stuffy maternal grandmother. Then there's the material involving Alan Bates ("The Sum of All Fears," "Gosford Park") and Brian McGrath ("A Love Divided," "The General") as a retired but outspoken lawyer and his ambitious reporter friend that provides additional decent laughs.

Not surprisingly, there's also a romantic subplot featuring Julianna Margulies ("Ghost Ship," "The Man From Elysian Fields") as a part-time barmaid who falls for the protagonist but makes him clean up his act both for her and his custodial quest. Stephen Rea ("The Musketeer," "The End of the Affair") and Aidan Quinn ("Song Catcher," "Music of the Heart") show up as lawyers who agree to take on Desmond's case and both deliver solid performances.

While their pre-trial material and related moments are good, the actual courtroom scenes leave a bit to be desired. Yes, they contain some good speeches and audience-satisfying emotional moments. Yet, Beresford seems to be rushing through them and one gets the feeling that additional footage was left on the cutting room floor or should have been shot to give the third act a bit more depth and resonance, both legally and dramatically.

Perhaps it's because we know or at least sense that the outcome of the case is a given, but most of the courtroom scenes don't feel like they received the same degree of attention or care as was afforded all that preceded them.

It's not a fatal cinematic flaw by any means, but I was hoping for and expecting a more gripping and engaging battle rather than what feels more like going through the motions to get to the foregone conclusion of how things will turn out.

Nevertheless, the picture as a whole is still gratifying and the cast and crew manage to make most of it work quite well. Not for impatient viewers with severe gag reflexes for movie style sentimentality - although that thankfully doesn't ever become overbearing - the effort is the feel good family film of the holiday season. Nothing spectacular but nonetheless rather engaging and entertaining, "Evelyn" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 4, 2002 / Posted December 20, 2002

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