On the day after Christmas 1953 in Dublin, Ireland, the wife of unemployed painter and decorator Desmond Doyle runs off with another man. Doyle is heartbroken. He loves his wife. He also tenderly loves his daughter, Evelyn, and his two boys, Dermot and Maurice. But according to Irish law—despite the fact that his newly departed wife doesn’t want the kids, and has in fact left the country to “pursue her dreams”—he must relinquish his fatherly right to raise the children since she is still alive. So the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children sends the Doyle siblings to St. Joseph’s Catholic school. Doyle’s hopping mad about the state taking away his kids, and although the law is heavily weighted against him, he is determined to get his children back. To do so he must not only defeat the Irish supreme court, but his own personal demon of alcoholism. He also needs a good lawyer who’ll work cheap! To that end, a local barmaid named Bernadette—who he’s sweet on—points him to her brother.
Based on a true story, Evelyn tells of one father’s mission to regain custody of his children against insurmountable odds. Desmond Doyle’s battle is against both church and state which, as one lawyer declares, are “in cahoots” with each other. The legal outcome will not only effect the Doyle family, but spin off long-term repercussions for other orphaned Irish children.
positive elements: Despite his flaws—primarily a profane tongue and an overindulgence with the bottle—Doyle genuinely cares for and shows affection for all three of his children (although as the title suggests, the movie focuses on his relationship with his daughter). While not to be recommended, Doyle’s occasional lack of wisdom and impulsive actions (among other things, he threatens a nun and impatiently tries to snatch his daughter from the Catholic school when he believes the system is not working) show the lengths to which his fatherly love will push him. When leaving his children at St. Joseph’s, Doyle reminds them, “I love you very much. You must understand that.” Doyle also genuinely cares for his wife; their estrangement is obviously not his idea. He’s shown cutting her out of family photos while weeping. He also cares deeply for his father. When Grandpa Doyle suffers a heart attack and dies, his son tenderly holds his hand and tearfully wishes him farewell. Before his children are taken away, a government official asks the unemployed Doyle whether or not he is able to support his children. Rather than lie, Doyle responds that it’s unlikely given the dire economic state of the community.
spiritual content: A lot. Good, bad and otherwise. The film opens with a children’s choir singing carols in the neighborhood square. A statue of Christ is part of the landscape. One of Evelyn’s brother’s asks, “Did Jesus ever have a big sister?” to which she replies, “He wasn’t as lucky as you though He did have two daddies, God the Father and Joseph the carpenter.” Doyle refers to nuns as “the loons.” Despite Doyle’s profane uses of Jesus’ name, he seems equally comfortable speaking reverently of God. At one point, referring to the legal battle as a “Goliath,” Doyle points out, “David beat Goliath in the book I read.” Dubious theology gets more than its share of screen time. When Evelyn sees a statue of Joseph, she tells her grandfather, “I’ll pray to him … he’ll understand.” Her grandfather agrees. Later, Grandpa tells her that when she sees the rays from the sun, she should think of them as spiritual reminders that “your guardian angel wants to help you—all you have to do is believe him.” After Grandpa dies, Evelyn and her father conclude that he is now their guardian angel. Granddad tells Evelyn that her mother will go to some place quite hot, but it’s unclear if Evelyn understands he’s referring to hell. At one point, concerning the Catholic sisters, Evelyn exclaims, “I hate them,” leading her grandfather to rebuff her, reverently responding, “They’re the brides of Christ.” There are ruthless, dishonest and self-centered nuns depicted; there are also kind and tender ones. One of the “bad” nuns (Sister Brigid) rebukes Evelyn for sleeping face downward (“We don’t lie on our stomach—it tempts the devil”). But Evelyn doesn’t let the actions of a sour-faced sister take away her faith. When her grandfather states emphatically that he doesn’t like Doyle’s mother-in-law, Evelyn points out, “Jesus says we should forgive those who sin against us.” Before the final legal battle, Evelyn prays, “Lord Jesus, help my daddy win. I know you’re testing him, but he’s getting very tired.” A difference in stories (hers and Sister Brigid’s) finds her on the witness stand defending her version as the truthful one, insisting that she would not lie because that would be a breach against the Eighth Commandment. Also in court, she asks for and receives permission to recite a prayer for the nation of Ireland. Children listening to court proceedings by radio are encouraged to pray. Even the anti-religious Tom Connolly prays when the heat is on. In court, Doyle declares a belief in the Holy Trinity, but then defines the Holy Spirit as “love.” While technically true, Doyle’s definition seems to indicate that this Third Person of the Trinity is love in the more general sense—rather than a personal Paraclete who embodies all real Love. Doyle states that he has become “more filled” with the Holy Spirit since he’s become a better person.
sexual content: Doyle finds his wife flirting with a guy in a pub on Christmas Eve. Two days later, she runs off with the man. A joke is made about a woman being “frigid.”
violent content: A nun drags a screaming Evelyn away from her grandfather, shouting, “I’ll teach you some manners here.” A drunken Doyle takes a swing at a priest who’s collecting pennies for African poor, blaming him—as a representative of the church—for his children’s situation. The priest ducks and returns a punch, leveling Doyle. “I’m sorry, Desmond,” says the priest. “I was the seminary boxing champion.” A more sober Doyle later thanks this priest, showing that he holds no animosity toward him. When a student is unable to provide a “catechism answer” regarding God’s mercy, Sister Brigid paddles her in front of the other students. Evelyn points out the obvious disconnect which in turn prompts the nun to take her out privately and, in a fit of rage, slaps her several times across the face (contact is hidden by the camera’s angle). Once Doyle finds out, he marches into the school, grabs Sister Brigid’s face, telling her that if she ever touches his daughter again, he’ll tear her “limb from limb!” After losing a court case, and trying to hug his children, Doyle scuffles with police as they attempt to remove his kids from the scene.
crude or profane language: There’s one Irish twist on the s-word, but Evelyn’s biggest downside for people of faith will be six or seven mistreatments of the Name of Jesus. “Bastard” also gets a significant workout whenever someone is considered despicable. It’s noteworthy to mention that Doyle’s mother-in-law chastises him for using “bastard” in front of his daughter (“Your language is appalling”).
drug and alcohol content: Most of the film’s characters are shown drinking. A lot of the dialogue occurs in pub settings. Grandpa once quips that the only thing worse than drinking to forget is “forgetting to drink.” [Spoiler Warning] All of that serves as background for a motivational portrayal of Doyle’s journey out of alcoholism. His mother-in-law refers to him as “the one that spends all his time in the pub.” And it’s true. He’s rarely seen without a drink in hand or nearby. In several scenes he’s visibly intoxicated (in one of them, he is in a car driven by his father, who lectures him about the dangers of drinking and driving). Fortunately, by film’s end, he gives up booze after realizing it’s damaging his chances to get his children back. Contrasted to Doyle’s desire to quit, Tom Connolly admits to being an alcoholic while constantly sipping from a flask he keeps pocketed—with no apparent ill effects. In one scene, referring to alcohol, Connolly states, “This is the holy spirit. …” Elsewhere, a young girl smokes in a children’s play area. One character has a cigarette tucked behind one ear. Another smokes a cigar.
other negative elements: Following an incident in which Evelyn angrily throws down a roll of candies, her grandfather lies and tells the nuns that he was responsible for the dropped sweets. Money for legal bills comes from a bookie who later drugs all but the winning dog, encouraging Doyle to bet on “Slippery Sam.” He does, and wins. Sister Brigid concocts a story that the bruises Evelyn received at the nun’s hand occurred during a fall.
conclusion: A father’s love for his children is placed center stage in Evelyn. When faced with the permanent loss of his beloved kiddos, Desmond Doyle steps up the plate, cleans himself up, and hits one out of the park. And that’s about as inspiring a human story as I can think of. If that were the only consideration, I might easily resort to hyperbole in my praise for this film. But on a spiritual plane, while the movie seems to exhibit respect for God, Jesus and the Bible, it falters in two significant arenas: theology and profanity. What spoils things most is Doyle’s thoughtless missuses of Jesus’ Name. I cringe every time Jesus’ name is relegated to obscenity. I even hate it when villains use this kind of language, but it’s worse when it comes from heroes—a God-fearing one in this case. Should anyone who really loves his Savior talk like this? Neither should Christian families thoughtlessly accept it as entertainment.