It’s hard to imagine a world in which the oh-so-suave Pierce Brosnan lately the incarnation of James Bond is cuckolded and abandoned. But in “Evelyn,” a loose adaptation of a true story, that’s exactly what happens. On the day after Christmas, no less.
Mr. Brosnan, in the role Desmond Doyle an out-of-work painter and decorator in 1953 Dublin who battles the stubborn powers that be to win back custody of his children actually acts in “Evelyn,” a nice contrast to the cucumber-cool Brit posturing of his recent output (see “The Tailor of Panama” or, better yet, don’t).
The Doyle family’s troubles began when the matron of the house decides to split.
Living in a cramped apartment with three noisy children, Doyle’s wife, Charlotte (Mairead Devlin), reaches her maternal and matrimonial breaking point and ditches her family.
With her Guinness-addled husband sleeping off a post-Christmas bender, she coldly faces her daughter the eponymous Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur) and makes off with her “fancyman.”
Rubbing salt in her proud Irish husband’s wound, Charlotte’s new beau turns out to be an Englishman as if turning her husband into an unemployed single father weren’t enough.
The Doyle children the precocious Evelyn and brothers Maurice and Dermot are then remanded to the care of the Catholic Church.
Initially, Doyle is told by a staid education minister that if he cleans up his act and finds gainful employment, he’ll get back his children.
However, because of a lunatic statute that requires the written consent of both parents before children may be released from an orphanage, the newly employed Doyle is denied custody of his children.
Since Charlotte Doyle is off gallivanting in Australia, she can’t provide her signature.
After an ill-advised attempt to bully his way into Evelyn’s orphanage where she’s treated harshly by a nefarious nun (Andrea Irvine) Doyle wises up and assembles a team of crack lawyers (Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea and Alan Bates).
Screenwriter Paul Pender lays it on a bit thick with a tried-and-true drama-ratcheting formula: the unwinnable case. The kind of high-profile, legal cause celebre that, if bungled, could end a good lawyer’s career.
(It’s not exactly apparent why such a moral outrage should be so hard to prove, but no matter. Mr. Pender is trying to win our hearts, not run a mock trial.)
Roiled in part by a new invention called television, the city of Dublin rallies to the upright father’s cause. Even the local bookie gives Doyle an infusion of cash to fund the legal dream team.
The case ultimately ends up in the hands of the Irish Supreme Court, where Mr. Brosnan gives an impassioned speech about how love is all you need.
Verily, that’s true but it’s not the kind of thing that happens in an appellate court. A supreme court is not a trial court, but why quibble over such niceties?
Miss Vavasseur steals the day and gamely withstands a withering direct examination by a browbeating barrister trying to convince the young girl that, no, she wasn’t roughed up by the good sister she really fell down the steps.
Despite Mr. Brosnan’s and Miss Vavasseur’s spirited performances, “Evelyn” ultimately fails. While it’s often funny and heartwarming, it pours on the treacle rather profusely and trots out one too many movie cliches.
Question: What would a story about a little guy taking on city hall be without reference to David and Goliath?
That said, it’s a very moving picture: If you come out dry-eyed, you should have your pulse checked.
But don’t expect anything more than a sweet spirit-lifting serving of sentimental pie.
RATING: PG (mild profanity)
CREDITS: Directed by Bruce Beresford, written by Paul Pender, produced by Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair and Michael Ohoven
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS