Evelyn (PG)

Desmond Doyle was an ordinary bloke – a painter and decorator in 1950s Ireland with an ordinary life, ordinary wife and ordinary kids.

So he was barely prepared for the moment when his wife, bored with the extraordinary ordinariness of it all, upped and fled with her secret lover, leaving Desmond to cope with a houseful of children while trying to earn a living. Life, as the saying goes, was tough.

Trying to be a decent father was one thing; succeeding was another. Suddenly Brendan found himself watching as his children were dragged off to a state-run orphanage following his wife’s mother’s whispers to the authorities. But Desmond resolved to fight, and fight he did – taking his case to the courts while battling to rebuild his life and business in the face of overwhelming odds.

In the hands of Bruce Beresford, Evelyn should be a far better film than it is. Certainly when boasting an ensemble cast that includes John Lynch, Julianna (er) Margulies, Stephen Rea, Sir Alan Bates and Aidan Quinn the movie should carry more dramatic weight. Yet there is something unmistakeably limp about the whole affair, based though it is on the autobiography of Evelyn Doyle herself – the child at the heart of this Oirish drama.

The main problem is leading man and producer Pierce Brosnan, as Doyle, who finds himself incapable of playing a genuine character as opposed to a James Bondian caricature. The role of Desmond requires a myriad of emotions and feelings – anger, helplessness, sadness, impotence in the face of unyielding authority, and stubbornness.

There is also the nagging feeling that, despite the presence of Lynch, Bates and Co, this is resolutely Brosnan’s show – a pet project that staggers to its denouement (Doyle won; sorry to spoil it) with all the finesse of one of those flaccid TV movies of yore.

Beresford, the man behind ‘Breaker’ Morant, Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy, here loses himself in the type of cod Irishness that suffocates Hollywood product. Surely it should have been avoided in a production that boasts a genuine Irishman as its star and producer – even one whose accent fades in and out, and who is, in truth, too old for the part?

The one saving grace alongside the cameos and support from Brosnan’s friends – chief out of place is American TV actress Margulies, playing a barmaid – is Sophie Vavasseur as Evelyn. She steals every scene she’s in and acts Brosnan off the screen.

In the wake of The Magdalene Sisters, Evelyn is an anorexic condemnation of state and Church. Still, it is a movie from the heart – its miniscule budget is evident throughout – and Brosnan obviously enjoys himself, even if the whole affair is, ultimately, something of a damp squib.

Star rating: **

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