Agnes Browne is a pragmatic newly-widowed working-class woman with a brood of seven growing children and not nearly enough money to feed and house them. She comes across as ignorant and naiive when she applies for a “widow’s pension” death benefit from the Irish equivalent of social security, “social welfare”, literally shortly after her husband drops dead and before she actually has his death certificate to provide proof for the bureaucracy. In order to tide herself over until one bureaucracy provides the necessary documentation to satisfy another, she borrows money from a local loan shark, but by working watching a friend’s stall at a local open-air market, she manages to save enough to pay back the loan shark in a lump sum, cancelling the debt, but generating bad will. Meanwhile, her husband’s Catholic funeral has all manner of things go wrong, including a hearse which breaks down and has to be pushed by the mourners who follow it on foot, a priest who goes to the wrong grave, and an unexpected crowd of coffins arriving at the cemetery in part because of a priest who dropped dead in the middle of saying Mass.
The movie is based on Agnes Browne (The Mammy Tie-in) by Brendan O’ Carroll, The Mammy, which is the first of a Agnes Browne Trilogy Boxed Set–The Mammy, The Chisellers, The Granny, which later expanded to have a prequel The Young Wan by Brendan O’Carroll (Jan 27 2004) 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 at school by a 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 stereotypes of sexual repression, and it considered is spicy gossip 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 they were shown walking home while wondering aloud if the “priests fixed the Bingo game” (in the church’s favor). If they did, it might do a lot to explain the impressive church in the midst of the shabby neighborhood.  (Being Catholic, I know for a fact that it is possible…) In spite of the implicit negative portrayals of Catholicism in the work, Moira is shown to have a positive relationship with God and the Church. In spite of her seeming irreverence, she visits the church every day, and while others may kneel in the pews and pray silently, Marion greets God with a hearty, “Good Morning, God, it’s me, Marion!”
While Catholicism is a pervasive presence, it 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.) When her daughter’s First Communion is imminent, the occasion merits a trip into town and a dress picked out and bought at an expensive department store, with the young girl swanning around in it before purchase. No discussion is made of the religious or personal significance of the event, it is just portrayed as a financial hurdle and as an opportunity for the young prospective communicant to show off.

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.

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