Evelyn is a 2002 drama film, loosely based on the true story of Desmond Doyle and his fight in the Irish courts (December 1955) to be reunited with his children. The film stars Sophie Vavasseur in the title role, Pierce Brosnan as her father and Aidan Quinn, Julianna Margulies, Stephen Rea and Alan Bates as supporters to Doyle's case. The film had a limited release in the United States, starting on December 13, 2002 and was later followed by the United Kingdom release on March 21, 2003.
The film was produced by Brosnan's own production company, Irish DreamTime, and others. It opened to positive reviews.
Nine-year-old Evelyn Doyle (Sophie Vavasseur) and her two brothers, Maurice (Hugh MacDonagh) and Dermot (Niall Beagan) are motherless when their mother abandons the marriage to a drunkard out-of-work father Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan). When Desmond's mother-in-law (Claire Mullan) reports the situation to the Irish authorities the children are prohibited by law to being left in broken homes; they are placed Church-run orphanages.
Evelyn's grandfather (Frank Kelly) takes her to the girls orphanage and explains to her that rays of light created by the sun shining in a specific spot through the clouds are called "angel rays"; they indicate that a guardian angel is watching over her. Evelyn finds when she enters the orphanage that conditions are harsh and many have been there for years.
Desmond finds little hope in regaining custody of his children because he cannot afford a lawyer, turns to drink and assaults Father O'Malley. The father punches Desmond. Desmond is helped by the local part-time bartender and chemist, Bernadette (Julianna Margulies). Bernadette tells Desmond to go for help at her brother Michael's (Stephen Rea) office, a solicitor. He makes it clear to Desmond that he cannot help him until he gets his act together--regular income and orderly life. Desmond finds decorating jobs and spends nights singing for tips with his father in the pub where Bernadette works.
Desmond reads in a letter of Evelyn that she has not been adjusting well with Sister Bridget (Andrea Irvine) who beat her when the Sister's authority was questioned. Evelyn objected to Sister Bridget beating her friend who forgot Bible scripture, although the Bible scripture stated that "God is merciful" therefore God would not want Sister Bridget to beat the children for forgetting scripture. While seeking out Evelyn, he finds and shakes the Sister while threatening her never to touch his daughter again or he will "tear her limb from limb."
Desmond returns to drink and after several rampages Bernadette refuses to continue her relationship with him since he needs to shape up. Desmond reforms. The American Nick Barron (Aidan Quinn), and the injured rugby player and rebel lawyer Thomas Connolly (Alan Bates) argue Desmond's court plea for regaining custody of his children; it is rejected and no course of appeal until they decide to bring before the plea is rejected by the courts leading Desmond and his children heartbroken and separated. But, that night (the same night Desmond quits drinking) a gambler rigs Desmond to win copious amounts of money to pay for his legal bills. With nowhere to go though, the case seems hopeless until Connolly comes up with the idea of bringing an entirely new issue to the Supreme Court that the lack of the children's custody by a parent is contrary to the Irish Constitution--an issue never successfully argued before the Court.
It takes public pressure for the case to be heard before the Court. Desmond gives compelling testimony. The following day, Evelyn says in court that she told a false story about her bruised face because Sister Bridget exaggerated her interaction with Desmond. Evelyn works herself into a pickle when Angel rays come into the court through the windows--a sign to her that her grandfather was watching over her. She recants her newly expressed explanation with comebacks that make people chuckle. She then finishes it off with a recitation of a prayer asking to forgive Sister Bridget and insure the prospering of Ireland and its people. Two of the three judges side with Desmond, the children are returned to him and he falls in love with Bernadette. They are shown on Christmas Day, celebrating as a family. It is this court action that many children in Irish orphanages were returned to their parents after the Irish Children's Act is amended.