- Thaddeus O’Sullivan
- Run Time
- 1 hour and 31 minutes
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
Irish film-maker Thaddeus O’Sullivan has given us a delightful parable of reconciliation in this story set in Ballygar, a working-class village in outer Dublin by the sea during the Sixties. It touches on some dark areas in the lives of the women we come to care about, however lightly, on their way to a happy conclusion.
We first see the elderly Lily Fox (Maggie Smith) at an embankment wall overlooking the sea where there is a plaque in memory of a young man, whom we surmise is her son. He is Declan Fox, age 19 when he was drowned a sea. When she returns home husband Tommy chastises her, “You’re not visiting our son. You’re visiting a pile of rocks and sand that don’t mean anything.” Apparently, she has never quite gotten over the grief of losing their only son, even though Tommy has moved on.
The elderly Lily is close to the middle-aged Eileen Dunne (Kathy Bates) and the twenty-something mother Dolly Hennessy (Agns O’Casey), whose young son Daniel (Eric D. Smith) has yet to speak a word. The three-generation women are getting ready for the funeral of their close friend Maureen, and are surprised when the woman’s daughter Chrissie (Laura Linney) shows up. It has been 40 years since Chrissie had abruptly left the village, and Lily and Eileen show no hint of gladness that she has returned. Only the kindly priest Father Dermot Byrne (Mark O’Halloran) welcomes her return.
The parish has paired the funeral with a fund raiser for a church-sponsored pilgrimage to Lourdes because Maureen had been on the fund raising committee, so it has been decided that the event with its talent show will go on in her honor. The winners of the show will receive a ticket to Lourdes. Lily with Eileen and Dolly have been singing in private as a trio, so they call themselves “The Miracles” and enter the contest. They are quite good, but a young boy soprano wows the crowd and wins the tickets, dashing the hopes of the women.
Dolly longs to go because she hopes for a miracle for her Daniel, whose muteness has caused her husband to become morose and distant from her. Eileen keeps her reason a secret from her friends, and I will leave it for you to discover it. Lily hopes for a recovery from the 40-year-old sorrow that has entrapped her in the past. Then, there is a moment of grace in which the sympathetic young winner presents the women with the tickets.
The women, with young Daniel in tow, are excited about the trip. But they are not pleased when Chrissie, encouraged by Father Byrne, decides to join the group just as the bus is pulling away from the curb. Back home the husbands are all displeased as well that their wives will leave them for a while. One threatens his wife with abuse, another wonders what he is to do—all are part of the accepted patriarchy that both depends upon their wife’s domestic labor and at the same time belittle it.
Father Byrnes, in words that become prophetic, tells the women, “You don’t come to Lourdes for a miracle. You come for the strength to go on when there is no miracle.” Clearly, the filmmakers are not out to make a religious movie with supernatural solutions to the characters’ problems, but instead want to tell a story of reconciliation growing out of understanding and forgiveness. Of course, circumstances force Chrissie and Lily to share the same room, leading to many sharp exchanges. We learn that Chrissie and Eilen were best friends back in 1927, and so the latter feels that her friend had abandoned her by leaving. Chrissie reveals that she did not leave but was banished. We can easily guess why, and how the older Lily is so resentful of Chrissie. Between such tense scenes there are comic moments when at the Lourdes baths the women disrobe and await their turn to enter a bath chamber. The water is very cold, so the women are upset by the piercing screams of those entering the waters, seemingly as if they are being tortured. Other comic touches are in the back home scenes wherein the men are not coping very well dealing with the shopping, cooking, and cleaning chores they had once derided as “women’s work.”
Some critics have written that the toxic paternalism is treated too lightly, with the men too easily being converted in the reunion scene at the end of the film. This may be true, but I still think the film is worthwhile. It is relatively short, so there was room for dealing with this, but it would have resulted in a very different film. The film that we do have does a lovely job of exploring the theme of reconciliation and the miracle of restored relationships. It certainly is better than a pious production of a group finding miraculous solutions to their physical ailments. One little touch that is satisfying, and which I haven’t noticed mentioned in other reviews, is something that little Daniel does when they return, but only when he is away from the adults.
This might be one of those films that you are drawn by the stars, and you will not be disappointed by their performances. And Agns O’Casey s Dolly, trying to be a neutral amidst the hostility of the older women, is also excellent in her film debut. John Conroy’s Cinematography shows the city of Lourdes and its cathedral and grotto in all their beauty—and in brief shots, its commercialism. Even for skeptics, there is something to admire in this film.
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