Five unmarried sisters in Ireland, circa 1936. Amid harsh poverty, these Christian women listen to a radio tune and dance with an abandon that rivals a pagan harvest festival. Onstage, in Brian Friel's Tony-winning play, the moment is one of theatrical magic. Director Pat O'Connor's screen version can't match it. The release of tension doesn't feel as powerful in a film that lets us see outside the Mundy sisters' constricted kitchen. Still, a luminous cast reveals long-buried feelings. Meryl Streep finds the expansive soul behind prim schoolteacher Kate. And she is matched by Kathy Burke's bawdy Maggie, Brid Brennan's secretive Agnes, Sophie Thompson's slow-witted Rose and Catherine McCormack's bold Christina, who never married the father of her son. It's the mysterious return of brother Jack (Michael Gambon) from the African missions that spurs a family crisis. The movie is no more than a delicate whisper as each sister reveals her grieving heart, but it's no less extraordinary for that.
From The Archives Issue 800: November 26, 1998