Film Review: The Miracle Club

Author: Kristina Cooper

Picture: YouTube screengrab

Film Review: The Miracle Club

It's a film about Lourdes, but 'The Miracle Club' does not offer a positive portrayal of the Catholic faith, says Kristina Cooper.

Lourdes has always been, and continues to be, one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations.  Its attractions are many. Not only is it a place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared and where there have been many documented healings, but you get to drink wine with your meals and eat nice French food all day? What’s not to like?  

The real draw of Lourdes, however, is the special atmosphere that pervades the place. This is because the needs of the disabled and suffering lie at its core and a spirit of love and compassion and joy overflow as a result. None of this comes across in “The Miracle Club”, a satirical film about a pilgrimage to Lourdes by an imaginary parish group from  a small Irish town in the 1960s. The film instead concentrates on the relationships and lives of four women on the trip.

Watch the trailer below.


A Different Kind Of Pilgrimage

As the film opens, we see Eileen (Kathy Bates), married to an inadequate wastrel (Stephen Rea) and her two best friends, octogenarian Lily (Maggie Smith) and young mum, Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) getting  ready for the parish talent competition. The first prize is two places on the parish trip to Lourdes.

Kathy Bates has a tremendous voice, but you are not quite sure whether you are supposed to smile indulgently or roll your eyes at the elderly Maggie Smith, providing backing vocals,  in her glitzy 60s mini dress.  The trio don’t win but, thanks to the generosity of a cherubic 12 year old, who probably didn’t want to go to Lourdes anyway, they all manage to go on the trip.

Yet far from it being a fun time the pilgrimage brings to the surface hidden secrets and long buried resentments towards a prodigal daughter of the parish, Chrissie (Laura Linney). She  has returned from America after 40 years banishment to attend her mother’s funeral. Although she is not a believer, she is encouraged by the local priest to come to Lourdes to find closure in her grief.

Spiteful and Unpleasant Reactions

Chrissie is beautiful and well dressed in contrast to the careworn locals.  This stirs up even more animosity and jealousy towards her, particularly when she sits next to the handsome parish priest in the coach. The women’s reactions are so spiteful and unpleasant  that you are tempted to bail out of the film rather than spend any more time with them.

It soon becomes clear that the Christian faith of the main protagonists is very thin or non existent, even if they are stalwarts of the parish. Eileen’s faith is shown to be little more than superstition. When she is not instantly healed after going into the icy Lourdes baths, she is furious- “It’s a con,” she screams accusingly to the poor priest.

The trip does end in redemption and growth and a positive note, but this has nothing to do with Lourdes or  the Catholic faith. These are portrayed as ultimately irrelevant and anachronistic. It is rather through Christy, the unbelieving outsider, that  reconciliation and healing  come about..

There may well be some truth in the way the Church is portrayed and the unloving attitudes of its members. It certainly could account for the appalling apostasy in Ireland over the last 50 years, but it does not make for a happy or encouraging film, even if does stir up interesting discussion topics about the state of the Church in Ireland.

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