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The Miracle Club

Film reviews can make funny reading! By this, I mean the way in which they often offer totally contrasting viewpoints about the same thing. I am thinking about the performance of actor Laura Linney in the film The Miracle Club’, now showing in cinemas, which drew great acclaim from one reviewer and the damnation of faint praise from another. Of course, we all bring our prejudices and individual ways of seeing things with us when we sit down to look at a movie and it is to be expected that opinions will differ. This is why I never read a review of a film until after I have seen it. As a result, I am often surprised by how something I found moving another person sees as overly sentimental!

I expected that the reviews of ‘The Miracle Club’ would be on the whole negative and I was correct. I suspect that some of this comes from anti-Catholic bias which is never able to accept there can be anything positive about themes which involve the Church. However, as I am not a ‘professional’ reviewer I may be jumping to incorrect conclusions. Personally I ‘enjoyed’ the film and would recommend it, especially to people who grew up in Ireland in the Sixties.

Set in Dublin in 1967 the story revolves around a group of women living in a working-class suburb of Dublin. The period is effectively captured, with children skipping on the street, ‘Wanderley Wagon’ on the television, and the Sacred Heart with lamp on the wall. The two ‘leading ladies’ are played by Oscar-winning actresses Maggie Smith and Kathy Bates. The former at age 88 is still able to convince an audience that she is in genuine emotional as well as physical pain. She plays the character Lily Fox, who along with close friend Eileen (Bates) and a younger friend Dolly (Agnes O’Casey), all have their own reasons for wanting to visit Lourdes.

Before this happens, their world is disrupted by the return of Chrissie (Laura Linney) from the United States. At one time Eileen’s best friend she left under a cloud 40 years earlier.  Eileen has no welcome for her; Lily snubs her. Only Dolly who has no history with Chrissie warms to her and at one stage admires her style of dress. An opinion with which a modern audience might not be in wholehearted agreement!

Different Times

This is the 60s after all and it is the women who are expected to cook, clean, and look after their husbands, none of whom want to ‘allow’ them to go to Lourdes. They are typical of their time, and it will of course be an irony for some that the local priest (Mark O’Halloran) is a kindly man in whom the women confide.  Eventually the women, including Chrissie end up on the Coach, Lourdes-bound, and the stage is set for coming to terms with the tragic events of the past and a redemption of sorts which has little to do with actual miracles.

While Lourdes is presented as a bit of a tourist trap there is a lovely moment when Eileen gazes at the statue of Our Lady and ponders on all she suffered. Heaven mirrors Earth and the common humanity of these women and all they have been through brings them together and they are granted the forgiveness they need in order to open up to one another.

The words of the priest sum up the whole experience when he says, “You don’t come to Lourdes for miracles. You come for the strength to go on when there is no miracle.”

This is an engrossing film comprising vivid location shots with some very impressive acting. I would recommend it, particularly to Irish Catholics of a certain vintage who will feel themselves on very familiar ground.

Written by Marie–Therese Cryan

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