The Miracle Club – Female friendship across generations

Producer Chris Curling is the lead producer on the film and was first sent the script for The Miracle Club twenty years ago. The screenplay, written by Dubliner Jimmy Smallhorne says his inspiration for the film came from his Mam and all other women who were the best multitaskers. “We all have our jobs to make our little piece better, and I think The Miracle Club is my attempt to make my patch a little better”.

“My mother had eight kids herself and my father so that’s ten meals three times a day – all the women on my street were heroic, charismatic, riveting characters,” says Smallhorne. “They had resilience in spite of the hardship and they had faith. In getting the script into the hands of Kathy Bates and Maggie Smith Jimmy owes it all to “one amazing woman Joan Allen – who in turn got the script to the two actors
and who herself believed in the story”.

The screenplay, written by Dubliner Jimmy Smallhorne says his inspiration for the film came from his Mam and all other women who were the best multitaskers

“It’s a screenplay that particularly attracted Kathy Bates with her Irish heritage. Maggie Smith was also interested. So my priority was to make the film as attractive as possible to Maggie so that she was happy to commit. I knew that Laura Linney and Maggie Smith were great admirers of each other’s work and I had just had the pleasure of working with Laura on Viggo Mortensen’s first feature film, Falling. They both committed to The Miracle Club at the same time. Once we had these three wonderful actors committed I felt very confident that with the support of Embankment Films, our sales agent, we could finance The Miracle Club as an independent film,” says Producer Chris Curling.

Jimmy Smallhorne and Chris Curling

For Kathy Bates her belief in the story is rooted in “the women…I would say … really kept me in. I remember meeting Maggie at the Oscars and she asked me “are we every going to do this effin movie” and I responded “don’t hold your breath” and yet here we are in Dublin.”

For director Thaddeus O’Sullivan he was approached “Maybe twenty years ago and nothing happened and then two years ago it came back around. What attracted me to the script is the notion of a bunch of women going to Lourdes looking for a miracle. It’s just about the best strap line you could have for a story! Our characters have their own reason to go, all of which are quite different and have different outcomes for them all”.

Female friendship across generations in a community in the late 1960’s in working class Dublin when the Catholic Church reigned supreme. A bus trip to Lourdes becomes more than a pilgrimage as each of the women look for answers to very different questions. Lourdes, a picturesque country town at the base of the magnificent French Pyrenees, and a place of miracles, is a magnet for 6 million visitors each year from across the globe.

Ballygar, Ireland, 1968: a hilariously hard-knocks community in outer Dublin that marches to its own beat – frenzied, fast and loose – and yet also deeply soulful; rooted in traditions of loyalty, faith and togetherness. It’s a thriving community in a constant uphill battle to live as fully as possible, on very little. And the opportunity to rise above one’s daily struggles is frankly a pipe dream, especially for women.

There’s just one tantalising dream for the women of Ballygar to taste freedom and escape the gauntlet of domestic life: to win a pilgrimage to the sacred French town of Lourdes, and all for free. When a group of women get their ticket of a lifetime after the riotous church talent competition.

As they confront one another and embrace their past, these women realise that the miracle they have all been looking for is right in front of them: in the strength of their friendships and unshakeable togetherness.

Truly joyous, uplifting, hilarious and aspirational – and an invitation to meet our heroines, all just as funny, messy, vocal and flawed as ourselves – The Miracle Club empowers us all to communicate, love and laugh, and discover that we are only as strong as the friends and family who stand by us.

Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan on his Cast Of Women

“I grew up in working class Dublin in the 60’s so I knew women that were like these characters, people that were religious but also as they got older and wiser the more skeptical they were about religion. My mother went to Lourdes to say thank you to the Virgin Mary for her intercession with regard to an illness that affected my father– so I saw that belief at first hand”.

“I don’t think I have met an actor who was so filmic in the way Laura Linney would approach the journey of the character and that she would be handing over the responsibility of the character to the director. She came so prepared in her mind about where she was in the journey. I think she has a love of the camera and a love of collaboration that we all got the benefit of”

“Maggie Smith is so UN- Downton! She is daunting to work with because of who she is and her body of work but what’s very clear is all she wants to do is act. When herself, Laura and Kathy were on set a switch went on and they would improvise beats and moments and the whole thing would just elevate”.

“Kathy Bates was incredibly open to the whole process. She had such enthusiasm and such a deep interest in this character. She would practice her Irish accent in LA and stayed in accent – that was her level of immersion and commitment to the project. He continued “I haven’t met an actor who so embraced the character as much as Kathy”

“Agnes O’Casey was very self confident and felt deeply for her character and one of my favourite scenes in the film is when the women are talking childbirth and she is extraordinary in the scene – she just tells them the story of her child and its so moving and funny and that’s quite an achievement for an actress in her first feature film”.

Thaddeus O’Sullivan

Thaddeus O’Sullivan says of his cast “well – you’re working with some of the best actresses on the planet. It was daunting and we were working on a very tight budget but they were incredibly professional and like everyone just wanted to get down and do the job. They were so comfortable in front of the camera and trusting of the camera. From working in television I’ve learnt how to take the short cuts and get things done quickly but I was mindful I was making a film”. He continues “I was daunted at the start working with Maggie but she just said “get on with it and let me what you want” and so that’s what I did!”

“The great thing about Thaddeus is that he knows this world so well” says producer Chris Curling. “He is a Dubliner, born and bred and his mother went to Lourdes. As a director you need to be resilient and determined and he is both – he stayed with the film through thick and thin. Thaddeus is very, very calm and that’s a great asset for a director”

For writer Jimmy Smallhorne Thaddeus brings “a calmness, a quietness and observation. To write something and to give it to somebody and then they see my vision as a writer nailed with their vision as a director that was a new experience for me, I struggled with it at times but to give these women to someone who would lovingly and creatively take care of them and Thaddeus did that”.

Making An Independent Film

Producer Chris Curling said “Actors and crew make a positive decision to work on an independent film these days because there is so much other better paid work out there.” “We all work on an independent film because we like the story, we like the cast, we want to work with the director and we want to create something magical and that’s what we have created with The Miracle Club shooting it in Ireland”. As Laura Linney said “everyone has to strap on a good sense of humour because it’s always going to be a challenge with an independent film so people had to dig deep but I think you see it on the screen. They say the talent is in the choices and you can see the choices on this film”.

Director Thaddeus O’Sullivan said “we found locations that were uniquely Irish and a visually striking working class community of terraced houses and I don’t think we would have found that anywhere else except Ireland”.

The Miracle Club was shot in Ireland on location around Dublin and Wicklow as well as at Ardmore Film Factory where a number of iconic locations were recreated including the world famous Grotto at Lourdes.