Desmond Doyle is devastated when his wife abandons their family on the day after Christmas.The film Evelyn is the story of Desmond Doyle’s attempt to keep his family together. It is a wonderful family film based on a true story in the early 1950s in Ireland. It sparkles with joy an touches your deepest feelings about family, justice and hope. Directed by Bruce Beresford, the director of Driving Miss Daisy, this heartwarming story came about through the meeting of the real Evelyn, now in her 60s, with writer Paul Pender in Scotland. Evelyn was determined to tell the story of her late father, and of how he fought for his three children all the way to the Supreme Court of Ireland. In Paul Pender she discovered a script writer who wanted to tell her story faithfully. In Bruce Beresford the right director got the script and began his magic.
In lead actor Pierce Brosnan, most famous for his roles in James Bond films, the director found the perfect Desmond Doyle, the father of little Evelyn.
The context of the story is 1953 in Dublin. Times are not great. But when Desmond Doyle’s wife runs away, leaving the working class man with their three young children and out of work, things go from bad to worse in the Doyle family. The two young boys are sent to a government run boarding school by the court and Doyle’s precious daughter
Evelyn was sent to a live with Catholic sisters in a state-sponsored Catholic school.
(It is important to understand that in Ireland church and state were in a very long, very close partnership. The vice-grip the church had upon the state was not truly broken until very recent times. This story of Desmond Doyle had a real impact on breaking this grip, making Evelyn both historically interesting as well as genuinely inspirational.) By the end of the film Desmond not only cleans up his own life, stopping his drinking, but he meets the love of his life who begins to restore order to his harried family, thus the film becomes a love story without too much sentimentality at all.
Ireland once held an ironclad law that said children without both parents in the home (if they were both still alive) could not stay in that home. The children had to be raised in a "normal" family. That family was seen, ultimately, as the church. That church was, of course, the Roman Catholic Church. This system surely brought some good to Ireland, in terms of social stability, but it also brought much grief to scores of single parents and children alike. One of the most moving scenes in Evelyn comes when Desmond argues that the true model for the family is not the “holy family of Jesus, Joseph and Mary” but rather the holy Trinity, a community in which the three persons interact and serve. This is not only good theology but it makes for a powerful scene that I will long remember. I played it several different times!
Television talk show-host Larry King called Evelyn, “A near masterpiece and a wonderful film.”
Ebert and Roper gave it “Two thumbs up.” I concur. This is one of the best films that I’ve seen in months. It is a feel good story that is really true. It is also a ground breaking story of how the church-state connection in Ireland was actually broken by both law and biblical wisdom. If this film doesn’t move you then you don’t have a pulse left. It is 95 minutes in length, rated PG, and was released in March of 2003. I found it in my public library. I am sure that it is available from the usual rental sources through which you get films. Don’t miss it.