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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

The Miracle Club - a "must see" study of humanity that made me laugh and weep

4.5 out of 5

Mark this film as a “must see.” Why? Two reasons; firstly because it features the marvellous Maggie. Smith of course! Without appearing as a headline stealing diva, Dame Maggie’s renowned talent subtly draws your attention in this heart-warming fable of three funny, messy, vocal and flawed working-class Irish women who leave Dublin for the first time on a dream trip to Lourdes. The second reason to see it is that the main cast is all female. Apart from the parish priest, the male characters are all secondary, pushing the women to the front. It's a rarity and a delight.

It is 1967, where three generations of close friends, Lily (Maggie Smith), Eileen (Kathy Bates), and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), from Ballygar, a working class community in Dublin, enter a church talent competition. The winning prize is a pilgrimage to the French town of Lourdes in the French Pyrenees, the site of St. Bernadette’s visions in 1858. The healing waters attract millions of tourists, as well as the faithful seeking miracles annually. The ladies, who have never travelled far from their homes before, intend to honour a friend, however the spiritual influence of the trip changes them forever.

Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s modest, emotive film has been gestating for almost twenty years, turned down by producers, citing the screenplay was not quite right and production funding couldn’t be secured. This despite a trio of the film world’s high octane actors signed. Oscar winner Dame Maggie, remembered for the title role in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” (1969), and of course most recently as the dowager countess spitting sarcasm in “Downton Abbey.” She’s joined by Oscar winner Kathy Bates, recalled as an obsessive fan in the screen conversion of Stephen King’s horror novel “Misery” (1990), and Laura Linney, who was nominated for a best actress Oscar playing a single mother in “You Can Count on Me” (2000).

The Lourdes pilgrimage opens opportunity for the women to contemplate their lives, each searching for resolution to painful past emotions, particularly when they are unexpectedly joined by Chrisse {Laura Linney) who’s been living in America for years and has returned for her mother’s funeral.. Old wounds and bitter truths are confronted as they embrace the past, leading to the realization their strength is in the collective friendships and warm togetherness they share. The trip allows the girls to kick up their heels, and never having moved outside of Dublin, and even Ireland, savour freedom, live life briefly, and revel in independence.

It is a comedy/drama hosting a sense of down-home, shamrock-green and semi-sad sentimentality. “The Miracle Club” buoys viewing pleasure with some terrific performances from middle/upper age screen star thespians who generally are past over for leading roles,(the exceptions being Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren). We anticipate Dame Maggie to steal the movie. She does, but in a subdued manner with her notoriety, rather than her verbal bluster. The narrative points a path to the importance of communication with family, with friends, encouraging association with strangers, welcoming them to the inner circle. Its a pilgrimage through our lives. as much a miracle of the wonder of Lourdes.

Kathy Bates is just wonderful and her portrayal of an Irish home-maker whose "stew is better than Da's" is just a delight. Laura Linney shines too as the prodigal daughter and is a delight. Rarely has a film been so well cast and each actor brings their A-Game as well as some of the best working-class Dublin accents I've heard British and American actors ever deliver - you would expect no less from these legends of the screen.

In a recent interview, director Thaddeus O’Sullivan said, “What really enthralled me about the story is how three strong characters confront one another and then, by embracing truth, they understand that the miracle they have all been looking for is right in front of them – in the strength of their friendships and unshakeable togetherness, What we have achieved together is to make an emotional movie that is truly joyous, uplifting and aspirational.”

I couldn't have said it better. Go see it.

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