An unexpectedly raffish air and an atmospheric production are the hallmarks of “Evelyn,” the true-life saga of an Irish father who bucked the system in 1953 to regain legal custody of his children in a groundbreaking court case. Co-produced by star Pierce Brosnan for his Irish DreamTime banner (the shingle’s third outing, after “The Nephew” and “The Thomas Crown Affair”), pic’s feel-good approach to the schematic David-and-Goliath story renders it a decent mainstream title for UA, with good if unspectacular ancillary to follow.
Brosnan plays Desmond Doyle, a hard-working but perpetually poor painter and decorator who moonlights singing in pubs with his dad and lives with his family in Dublin’s Fatima Mansions housing estate. When his wife walks out on him and his three kids for another man, church and state gang up to remove his kids, split them up and send them to different orphanages.
As little Evelyn Doyle (Sophie Vavasseur) learns to adjust to life surrounded by nuns both good and bad, Desmond first tries desperately to steal his kids back, then vows to assemble a legal dream team to take on the Irish courts. He meets skeptical lawyer Michael Beattie (Stephen Rea) through the jurist’s barmaid sister Bernadette (Julianna Margulies).
Beattie is shocked to see American colleague Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn) take an interest in the case (a divorce separated him from his own children) — and a fancy to Bernadette, who’s also pitching woo with Des. But it isn’t until the attorneys successfully lure footballer-turned-superstar-barrister Thomas Connolly (Alan Bates) out of retirement to shake up the system that they appear to have any kind of chance to revise the existing law.
A sprightly pace and a fatalistic sense of humor propel the proceedings over a generous amount of drinking jokes and other cliches of Irish life and culture. Though a legal win looks extremely unlikely up until the final reel, emotional pitch of pic leaves little doubt that Doyle and his cause will triumph, and he even gets an “I’m a better person” speech to the packed courtroom that defiantly drips of Capra-corn.
Reuniting after African-set, 1991 “Mr. Johnson,” vet director Bruce Beresford and Brosnan are completely in synch with the material. The star plays Doyle as just rough enough around the edges to warrant the character’s setbacks, but not so unpleasant that the twinkle in his eye is extinguished or his ability to love and care for his kids would come into question.
All other perfs are in the underdog spirit of the proceedings, with Quinn particularly relaxed and appealing as the Yank ambulance chaser and Bates having a grand old time as the eccentric elder jurist. Only John Lynch as opposing counsel in the climactic courtroom battle seems underserved by the otherwise obvious script.
Lead by Andre Fleuren’s warm, widescreen lensing, tech package is fine, with most principle craftspeople returning from previous Beresford productions. The Irish brogues are a bit much at first, but flatten out as pic proceeds.