wed 24/07/2024

The Miracle Club review - unchallenging but enjoyable Irish drama | reviews, news & interviews

The Miracle Club review - unchallenging but enjoyable Irish drama

The Miracle Club review - unchallenging but enjoyable Irish drama

Laura Linney shines in tale of redemption

Maggie Smith, Agnes O'Casey and Kathy Bates perform in a talent contest in The Miracle Club

If I had to condense the Catholic faith of my upbringing in one sentence, I would say that it essentially comes down to two things: we're all sinners, but we are all capable of redemption. (Theological experts may take a different view.) That boiled-down notion appears to be the takeaway of Thaddeus O'Sullivan's The Miracle Club, set in 1967 working-class Ballygar, just outside Dublin – the kind of place whose residents live there their entire life.

It concerns three women who go to Lourdes “for the cure”. Anyone not au fait with the Marian devotion central to Irish Catholicism in that period may need a primer here; the once tiny French village is one of the places where Mary, Christ's mother, is said to have appeared. The grotto where the apparition took place is now a place of pilgrimage and, the faithful believe, where miracles – such as the lame being able to walk again – occur regularly, although not frequently.

The women are neighbours Lily and Eileen (Maggie Smith and Kathy Bates, donning mostly passable Irish accents), accompanied by Eileen’s daughter Dolly (Agnes O’Casey, who stars in this week's Lies We Tell) and her son Daniel (Eric Smith), who hasn’t spoken since he was born six years before.

Before we get to the actual trip there's some weak comedy involving the three women entering a talent competition run by the local church to win tickets for the trip, and Stephen Rea doing some shtick as Eileen's useless-about-the-house husband.

Joining them is Chrissie (Laura Linney), back in Dublin for her estranged mother's funeral and deciding on a whim to go. She was once Eileen's best friend but left for America “in disgrace” 40 years before when she became pregnant by Lily's only son, who died not long after. So there's a swirl of emotions as we learn the backstory to these fractured relationships and a fair few sins – Chrissie's pride in not returning home sooner, Eileen's envy of her friend who made a better life, Lily's cruelty to Chrissie as she encouraged her mother to disown her daughter. It's enough to keep a priest busy in the confessional for a week.

Gradually, the women, encouraged by Dolly, who doesn't understand the fuss, edge towards mending their relationships, helped along by the twinkling priest Father Dermot (Mark O’Halloran), on hand with sage advice when needed. “You don’t come to Lourdes for a miracle,” he says to Eileen who, it turns out, is in want of her own act of God. “You come for the strength to go on when there is no miracle.”

Of course we know that everyone will be redeemed by the end as they face the truth of their behaviour. The script – by Jimmy Smallthorne, Joshua Maurer and Timothy Prager – doesn't give these terrific actresses much to work with, but what they have they use to the utmost, particularly Linney. It's a gentle, unchallenging film with a good heart and the period detail is scrumptious.

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