Lily (Smith) and Eileen (Bates) are lifelong friends living in a working-class suburb of Dublin, made up really of just a couple of blocks. It is a close community where everyone knows everyone else, gossip reigns, and grudges go on for generations. Lily, Eileen, and their much younger friend Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) sign up for a talent contest at the local parish. The prize? Tickets to Lourdes, the pilgrimage site in France, a place the women, all faithful and devout (grudges notwithstanding), have all been longing to visit. Each woman needs a miracle. Eileen found a lump in her breast and told nobody. She hasn’t gone to a doctor either. Her husband (Stephen Rea) and a gaggle of children keep her busy, and Eileen is resigned to leaving them. Lily can’t get over the death of her son Declan, who drowned many years before. Dolly’s young son (Eric Smith) cannot (or won’t?) speak, and Dolly hopes for a cure.
The rhythm of this small neighborhood is established immediately, and the tone is warm, inviting, and comfortable. John Conroy’s cinematography starts with stunning sweeps of Irish green and the blue sea, the gorgeous cliffs and rocks, Ireland incarnate. But he shows equal care with the small block of houses and their colored doors, the intimacy of the setting. John Hand’s production design is also a major contribution: the homes feel lived in, realistic, and not presented condescendingly. It’s homey and real.
Naturally, Lily and Eileen have secrets, all of which come roaring to the surface when Chrissie (Linney) returns to town, just in time to catch the talent show. She’s been gone from the town for decades, and clearly, there’s a lot of bad water under the bridge. Eileen can barely look at her; Lily turns her nose at her. Dolly has no idea what’s going on and warms to Chrissie immediately. Before you know it, through twists, turns, and coincidences, the quartet is off to Lourdes, praying for personal, physical, and spiritual miracles.