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STARRING: Liam Cunningham, Orla Brady, Tony Doyle

DIRECTOR: Sidney Macartney

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

RATING: Unrated

THE LOWDOWN: The true story of a Catholic and Protestant couple who struggle to raise their daughters amidst the religious divisions of Ireland in the late 1950s.

"A Love Divided" is a film divided. Part docudrama, part melodrama, the movie tells the true story of the Cloneys, a half-Catholic, half-Protestant couple who struggle to raise their daughters amid the religious divisions of Ireland in the late 1950s.

Stuart Hepburn's screenplay portrays the Cloneys and their neighbors with perceptive depth, yet he and director Sydney Macartney can't help but douse the picture with a few dollops of unwelcome, cloying sentimentality.

Sean Cloney is Catholic, but his wife, Sheila, is Protestant. According to custom, on their wedding day, they vow to raise any children they have as Catholic. Sheila, however, insists that they make another vow to themselves - a vow to be true to their convictions no matter what the opposition. In a moment whose power is marred by cliched language, Sheila urges her husband that "It's got to be you and me against the world."

Both vows prove easy to keep until the Cloneys' eldest daughter, Eileen, is old enough to go to school.

The local priest, Father Stafford, insists Eileen attend Catholic school, without allowing her parents any say in the manner. Sheila is stunned when Sean meekly agrees to the priest's decision. Confused and enraged, she takes her daughters to Belfast one morning and doesn't return.

Father Stafford explodes the incident into a crusade to "get those girls back into the bosom of our church," and his angry sermons stir up long-dormant anti-Protestant feelings among his parishioners. Boycotts, burnings and beatings ensue. Finding themselves in the center of the storm, the Cloneys realize their actions have inadvertently unleashed a torrent of hatred beneath the once seemingly-peaceful village of Fethard-on-Sea.

Liam Cunningham and Orla Brady portray Sean and Sheila with a conviction so passionate they rise above the triteness of backlit scenes in which they pledge undying love and the film's disappointingly pat ending.

As the power-obsessed Father Stafford, Tony Doyle is truly villainous. One moment, he's ordering all the village children ice cream with the kindly generosity of Father O'Malley in "The Bells of St. Mary's"; another moment he descends upon the local Protestant school with the maniacal fury of Cardinal Richelieu, demanding the school's lone Catholic teacher resign her post in front of her frightened pupils.

As Andrew Bailey, a popular pub owner and the town's only atheist, Peter Caffrey displays dignity and courage both when being threatened by Father Stafford's thugs and when advising Sean that "love's too precious and life's too long" to live without Sheila and his daughters.

Despite some melodramatic touches and a too-tidy ending, "A Love Divided" largely avoids the oversentimentalization of Ireland prevalent in many films. Director Macartney displays a fondness for romantic backlit silhouettes and sweeping landscape shots, but portrays the village of Fethard-on-Sea and its people with intelligence and objectivity.

Though his dialogue can sound worthy of a soap opera, Hepburn's screenplay can be very astute, particularly in the scenes that crosscut Father Stafford's majestic rhetoric about a "dignified boycott" with the frenzied violence his words inspire.

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