Subscriber OnlyFilmReview

The Miracle Club: Not as deranged as Wild Mountain Thyme and not that much fun

What is this film doing here in 2023? It’s not full-on Oirish, but it’s not far from it despite some great home talent on show

The Miracle Club
    
Director: Thaddeus O'Sullivan
Cert: 12A
Starring: Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Maggie Smith, Agnes O'Casey, Mark O'Halloran, Mark McKenna, Nial Buggy, Hazel Doupe, Stephen Rea
Running Time: 1 hr 31 mins

A current of indecent excitement has been running through snarkier circles since the trailer for Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s hunk of aged Calvita landed domestically. Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, Laura Linney and others bejaysus their way through an implausibly crisp version of late-1960s Dublin. Sure, aren’t they all off to Lourdes? Oh, there’ll be great crack as the sightless gain vision. Yes, the promo suggests an adventure in stage Irishness to compare with Wild Mountain Thyme.

The Miracle Club is not that. For starters, it’s not really a comedy. There is a lot of putative fun as the supposedly hopeless husbands – terrible eejits altogether – fend for themselves when the wives make for the Pyrenees. But the screenplay is more to do with old acquaintances reluctantly tidying away grim betrayals that have festered for decades.

It’s not so Oirish as Wild Mountain Thyme (unsurprisingly, given the home talent). It’s not so deranged. It is, put simply, a good bit better. Which is to say, not quite so much fun.

We begin with a drone shot that, unless my eyes deceived me, allows at least one satellite dish among the roofs of a redbrick locale by Dublin Bay. Chrissie (Laura Linney) is returning to the area following decades of apparently aggrieved exile. While she is processing her mother’s death, three women from three generations – Smith as Lily, Bates as Eileen and Agnes O’Casey as Dolly – prepare to enter the parish talent contest. The prize is a trip to Lourdes and Dolly has notions the waters may cause her silent son to speak.

READ MORE

Right from the start, the film has a problem with period ambience. At the contest, the three women dress up in floral wear and perform a tolerable version of the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine. This feels, for an octogenarian and a sexagenarian, about as likely in 1967 as them tackling The Black Angel’s Death Song by the Velvet Underground. Still, perhaps we are in a quasi-fantastic version of that decade. Chrissie looks as few ordinary women of her generation then looked. Dolly is just a little too Carnaby Street for (checks notes) unpretentious Ballygar. Let that go.

Anyway, our heroes don’t actually win first prize, but, what with dis, dat and d’other, they end up securing the tickets and embarking in a charabanc. Mark O’Halloran, contemporary master of the genial authority figure, is there as the militantly unthreatening Father Byrne. For no reason I could discern, Chrissie, cordially loathed by many on board, also comes along for the ride. Before long, we are at a hotel whose Frenchness is confirmed by the presence of a Citroën DS at the front door. Second-unit shots of the Basilica of Our Lady seal the deal.

What is this film doing here in 2023? True, it gives an array of excellent actors an opportunity to riffle through their vowels. Maggie Smith, who mastered a Dublin accent 45 years ago in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, repeats the trick as she squeezes comedy from lines that aren’t all supposed to be funny. In contrast, Kathy Bates, her timbre wandering over the island, will, for all her gifts, set a few Dublin ears on edge. O’Casey is a new star. O’Halloran could make a charmer of Dr Crippen.

None of this compensates for the apparent amnesia about how attitudes towards the church have changed. There is a strong scene in which the women discuss their various attempts (sometimes scary, sometimes pathetic) at home abortion, but, for the most part, the theocracy is represented as avuncularly beneficent.

Worse still, the wan characters never find the profane spark we know they would have possessed. One longs for the late Maeve Binchy to give the thing a vigorous shake. She knew how to make such people live.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist