It’s Show Time!

The Miracle Club
Ireland, 2023, 91 minutes, Colour.  
Cast:  Laura Linney, Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, Agnes O’Casey, Mark O’Halloran, Mark McKenna, Eric D.Smith, Stephen Rea, Niall Buggy.
Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan.


This is an Irish tale set in 1967 Dublin. As the title indicates, miracles, there is more than a Catholic tone to this drama with touches of comedy.  And it will play more extensively around the world because of the star power of its cast, Maggie Smith, in her late 80s, Lily, a Dublin housewife (a long way from Downton Abbey); Kathy Bates, Oscar winner for Misery, Eileen; and the always versatile Laura Linney, Chrissie.  They are supported by an Irish cast led by Stephen Rea as Eileen’s husband.

Looking back to 1967, in the Catholic Church, this was the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council at the beginning of many changes in the church, and the dialogue with what were called “the signs of the times”.  However, there was a long Catholic tradition in Ireland, cheerful in many ways, but rather harsh in others.  At the opening of the film, the local parish puts on a talent show to raise money for a charity, down at the parish hall, and the two older ladies dressing up, along with the young mother, Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) who is sad that her young boy, Daniel, has not yet spoken, Eileen singing He‘s So Fine and Lily and Dolly as the backup singers (who would have thought they would have seen Maggie Smith as a backup singer!).  The prize is two tickets to Lourdes. (And the second prize is a cut of bacon.)

So, the introduction of the theme of Lourdes, the story of Bernadette and her experience in apparitions in southern France, 1858, and the stories of miracles and cures, the screenplay telling us there have only been 62 verified cures since 1858.  Eileen recalls the film of The Song of Bernadette (1943), based on the book by Jewish Author, Franz Werfek, an extraordinary impact about Lourdes in its time.  This all has the support of a quite genial parish priest, Father Dermot Byrne,( Mark O’Halloran).  But, there is a sadness in the town, the death of an elderly woman, her estranged daughter, Chrissie, Laura Linney, returning to the town after 40 years for her funeral.  There is a sad story here, a reminder of much Catholic harshness, the unmarried pregnant girl, the severity of judgments, the effect on the young father, silence and alienation for decades, and sad secrets for both Lily and Eileen.

With some manoeuvring, everyone sets out for Lourdes, the bus, the ferry, the mountains of the Pyrenees, the vista of the basilica and the shrine of Lourdes.

And here is the challenge for the audiences.  The believers in the audience will have no difficulties (perhaps not quite right because some of the pilgrims voice a number of difficulties, the brunt of scepticism, high expectations of miracles, disappointments….  For many, this Catholic story will smack of another world of which they are not part.  And, as voiced in the screenplay, there are always the suspicions of superstition, presumptuous faith.

The pilgrims go through the rituals, the visit to the grotto, stories of Bernadette and the apparitions, devotion to Mary, statues, and the important process of immersing oneself in the waters, coming from the spring that Bernadette herself dug in the soil and which has flowed ever since.  It is in the baths that there are expectations of miracles and consequent disappointments.  (Surprisingly, the ever-popular at him is not included.)

And, there are some entertaining scenes of how everyone is managing back home, Lily’s husband taking to bed and enjoying eating, Eileen leaving her husband and six kids, a sceptical husband and, as a neighbour says, a miracle already because he actually has to do the shopping!  And he does some cooking!  Dolly leaves behind her young husband and daughter, his being angry at her going.

Towards the end, there is a lot of talk about forgiveness and reconciliation and, as we are anticipating, and probably hoping, the past angers surface, upsets, misunderstandings, the scars of hurt.  And, as is so often said, as well as the statistics indicating, healings from illness are not the norm at all of miracles in Lourdes.  Rather, it is the effect of making the pilgrimage, reflections on life and relationships, the possibilities of reconciliation and new directions in life.  Dolly and the whole group also hope for a miracle when Daniel, will begin to speak.  It is a tribute to the writers and the director how this is handled with reticent delicacy.

In only 90 minutes, we immerse ourselves in the Ireland of the Catholic past, go on pilgrimage to Lourdes, and experience a bit of challenge to where our own lives might need some healing and reconciliation.

By Fr Peter Malone MSC 


The Miracle Club is available in cinemas from Thursday, 3 August 2023.



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