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Before 1953, Irish children who lost their mothers were appropriated by the state and placed in Catholic orphanages, even if their fathers were still alive and willing to care for them. Evelyn dramatizes the struggle of Desmond Doyle (Brosnan), a hapless, bibulous, unemployed house painter, to retrieve his three young children — Evelyn, Maurice, and Dermot — from the custody of priests and nuns. It begins in Dublin on Christmas Eve, hours before Desmond's wife empties the family cookie tin and absconds to Australia. It concludes with an unprecedented legal victory; nullifying a law on Constitutional grounds for the first time, the Irish Supreme Court declares that a father has the right to rear his own children.

Director Bruce Beresford, who absconded from Australia to a successful career in the United States, makes of Evelyn a gratifying story of virtue rewarded. For all his faults and weaknesses, Desmond is a loving man whose determination to get his children back is contagious. He recruits a morose solicitor named Michael Beattie (Rea), an Irish-American barrister named Nick Barron (Quinn), and a legendary rugby player named Tom Connolly (Bates) to help in the campaign. He even wins the heart of Bernardette Beattie (Margulies), the barmaid who cajoles him into giving up the bottle. He charms a nation following his ordeal on primitive TV.

Much of Evelyn is sweet blarney built on Irish stereotypes, including adorable tipplers and stern nuns. Young Evelyn's belief that "angel rays" guard her life turns history into fairy tale. Doyle's solicitor warns him that, "The law and justice are two entirely different things." They end up being identical in this cheerful Christmas offering.

REVIEWED BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN


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