2002, Movie, PG, 94 mins


Pierce Brosnan takes a break from his recurring role as the latest James Bond to portray a more low-key sort of hero: Desmond Doyle, a real-life father of three who fought to regain custody of his children after a Dublin court ordered their relocation to orphanages. Christmas Eve, 1953, finds Doyle (Brosnan), a professional painter and decorator, with no job and very little money with which to support his wife, Charlotte (Mairead Devlin), and their three young children. Come St. Stephen's Day, Desmond's fortunes worsen considerably when Charlotte abandons her family without so much as a goodbye. Charlotte's spiteful mother (Claire Mullan) reports Desmond's dire situation to Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and soon after, an Irish court decides the youngsters would be better off in orphanages. Desmond's two young sons, Dermot (Niall Beagan) and Maurice (Hugh MacDonagh), are sent to the Kilkenny Industrial School; his daughter, Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur), is remanded to the stern care of the sisters of the St. Joseph's School in Dublin. Doyle first plans to break his children out and sneak them off to Scotland, but sensible Bernadette (Julianna Marguiles), a local barmaid and aspiring pharmacist, puts him in touch with her brother, Michael Beattie (Stephen Rea), a solicitor. Beattie advises him to find steady work — Doyle, accompanied by his fiddle-playing father, Henry (Frank Kelly), have been singing in the local pubs — and ease up on the two-fisted drinking before petitioning a court of law, but gives him little cause for hope. According to Children's Act of 1941, the consent of both spouses is required for one parent to gain custody, and Charlotte is nowhere to be found. Beattie's Irish-American friend, barrister Nick Barron (Adian Quinn), thinks otherwise; Barron lost custody of his own children in a divorce settlement and is to determined to see that Doyle gets his back, even if it means taking the case to the Irish Supreme Court. Doyle's case made judicial history — never before had an Irish statute been found "repugnant to the Irish constitution" — and turned Doyle into a famous man. While Brosnan, an Irishman by birth, lays it on bit thick, his performance is surprisingly effective. Bruce Bereford makes the best of a workmanlike script, the children — particularly young Vavasseur — are undeniably adorable, and there's a nice turn by Alan Bates as a boozy ex-rugby hero who also happens to be an expert on Irish family law. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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