Agnes Browne is a movie based on the book The Mammy by Brendan O’ Connell, which is the first of what started as a trilogy, and then gained a prequel and a sequel. The book upon which the movie is based, The Mammy, goes into greater elaboration about the activities of Ms. Browne’s children following the death of their dad, and which details Ms. Browne’s effort to protect her daughter from harsh punishment by a teaching nun called Sister Magdalen.
Though the adults of the social grouping to whom Agnes belongs, living in the working-class neighborhood of Dublin called The Jarro, frequently pepper their speech with colorful cuss words, they expect their children to be respectful and have clean language, and the children are more innocent of sexual matters and even the effects of puberty on their own bodies than modern children would be.
The adults fulfill the stereotypes of sexual repression held by just about anyone who has ever written of Ireland and Catholicism. It is considered spicy gossip indeed when Agnes’ best friend Marion claims to have had two “organisms” on different occasions during sex with her husband, who was sufficiently ignorant to think he had hurt her, while Agnes has had seven children, but claims to have never experienced an “organism” during the sexual acts that produced them.
Catholic culture can be said to have held sway in Ireland at the time the movie is set, and Ireland was at that time known to have enforced laws against divorce, abortion, and contraceptives in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and formally or informally, a social climate in which sexual and social freedom is tightly reined in. Though the year is supposed to be 1967, the Mass is still in Latin, and the priests still face ad orientem.
Though the neighborhood in which they live is poor (one of the books in the trilogy by O’ Connell is set in a time period a few years after that of the movie and one of the plot points is that the building they live in is considered a slum and is set to be knocked down in a plan for urban renewal), they have an impressive Catholic Church which looks for all the world like a cathedral.
An evening spent at the parish Bingo game has more often than not left Agnes and her best friend poorer, and one night walking home while wondering aloud if the “priests fixed the Bingo game” (in the church’s favor). Catholicism nevertheless is strictly in the background: this is essentially a best friend movie (the relationship between straight but loyal and true Agnes and flashy, exciting, eccentric Marion is the primary theme of the movie); a romance movie (Marion and others encourage shy puritanical Agnes to seek a second husband and enjoy “playing cupid” when a new romantic prospect presents himself); and an impoverished children movie (Agnes must financially support, discipline, and trouble-shoot her childrens’ problems on her own while they face the challenges of growing up poor in their particular society.) In spite of the casual Celticized cussing, and a scattering of moral bad examples, this is a movie well worth watching for seeing how this family fares when faced with adversities, opportunities, and a surprise visit from musician Tom Jones.