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Is The Miracle Club (2023) Based on a True Story?


Is The Miracle Club (2023) Based on a True Story?


Summary

  • The Miracle Club, starring Kathy Bates and Maggie Smith, is based on writer Jimmy Smallhorne’s Irish upbringing in a quaint town.
  • Smallhorne’s passion project took 20 years to come to life, featuring an ensemble cast in a nostalgic 1960s Europe setting.
  • While the characters are fictional, The Miracle Club pays homage to the resilient working-class Irish women of Smallhorne’s youth.



Released in July 2023, The Miracle Club is a delightful Irish dramedy that stars Oscar-winners Kathy Bates and Dame Maggie Smith. Directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, the story concerns a group of blue-collar women from Ballygar who embark on a journey from Dublin to Lourdes, France in 1967 to witness the enchanting market town known for its religious miracles. Along with Elieen (Smith) and Lily (Bates), the women are joined by Chrissie (Laura Linney) and Dolly (Agnes O’Casey) on a pilgrimage of enlightenment.


With The Miracle Club recently added to Netflix, more people can see the movie and its superb ensemble cast. Yet, given the nostalgic glimpse of 1960s Europe, it’s easy to wonder if the movie is based on a true story or fabricated from scratch. Believe it or not, The Miracle Club is not only based on writer Jimmy Smallhorne’s time growing up in a quaint Irish town, but the project has been in the works for over 20 years. Here’s everything to know about the true story behind The Miracle Club.


What is The Miracle Club About?

The women stand and smile in The Miracle Club
Lionsgate UK


Written by Jimmy Smallhorne, Timothy Prager, and Joshua D. Maurer, The Miracle Club begins in Ballygar, Ireland in 1967. The small town is full of hard-working, blue-collar citizens who struggle to survive on the outskirts of Dublin. Viewers are introduced to Lily Fox (Smith), still grieving over her son’s death at sea years prior. Lily is best friends with Eileen Dunne (Bates), a cancer-stricken grudge-holder still mad that her friend Chrissie Ahearn (Linney) fled town decades ago. Elieen has essentially swapped Chrissie for the ingénue Dolly Hennessy (O’Casey), the mother of a mute child who also hopes and prays for a miracle to come in Lourdes.

The inciting event occurs at the Holy Cross Talent Show in a nearby church, where first place wins a free trip to Lourdes, France. After bickering with Chrissie and blaming her for her mother’s death, the female foursome wins first place and finds its way to France on a crowded bus ride and ferry trip. Alas, what should be a happy time away from home becomes an exercise in harboring and hashing out old grudges that come to light as the story unfolds. The title of the beloved road trip movie refers to the women’s devout faith and attempt to find religious miracles in Lourdes to help them overcome their hardships in Ballygar. Ultimately, the friends learn that miracles come from within, not from traveling to a mystical land.


The Miracle Club’s Miraculous Journey to the Screen

The women wear floral costumes in The Miracle Club
Lionsgate UK

The Miracle Club has been a lifelong passion project for Smallhorne, who spent roughly two decades trying to make the movie. The movie originated under the title Pushers Needed in 1999. The project moved to HBO in 2005, with Smallhorne attached to direct. At the time, Smallhorne recruited Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, Claire Danes, and Brenda Blethyn for the main roles. Although the film never went forward with HBO and the original cast, producer Joshua D. Maurer never gave up hope and continued to search for funding.


Eventually, following a significant rewrite from Maurer and screenwriter Timothy Prager, The Miracle Club was picked up and financed by Lionsgate UK and Embankment Films. Although the COVID-19 pandemic delayed production, the retooled script was strong enough to attract original cast members Smith and Bates back to the project almost 20 years after they were first linked. Meanwhile, Laura Linney was cast and Thaddeus O’Sullivan was hired to direct the movie. While Smallhorne’s involvement with the project’s revival is unknown, the blueprint he laid out in 2005 is recognizable in the finished product.

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It’s also worth noting that Smallhorne is an accomplished actor who has remained active since The Miracle Club‘s release. Although he does not appear in The Miracle Club, in 2023 Smallhorne appeared in the Paramount+ Original Series The Doll Factory and TG4’s Irish TV series Northern Lights. In 2024, Smallhorne appeared in the Dublin-based drama TWIG and the Irish sitcom The Dry. Smallhorne has also directed two films, 2by4 (1998) and the TV movie Fingerprints (2016).


Is The Miracle Club Based on a True Story?

Chrissie and Lily stand by water in The Miracle Club
Lionsgate UK

Although the four main characters in The Miracle Club do not exist in real life, the true story Netflix movie is inspired by writer Jimmy Smallhorne’s memories of growing up in Ireland.According to Deadline’s glowing review of the film:

“The movie is the brainchild of co-writer Jimmy Smallhorne and based on his memories of his family and growing up in a small Ireland town, but the emphasis is clearly on the women in that family.”

While Smallhorne did not grow up in Ballygar, he came of age in the nearby Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot. The working-class depiction of the characters in the film derives from Smallhorne’s experience as a professional construction worker in Ireland. According to The Irish Film and Television Network, Smallhorne lived on the streets of Dublin for a short time before co-founding the Irish Bronx Theater. While not much is publicly known about the specific women in Smallhorne’s life, his background and time in Dublin informed the screenplay for The Miracle Club.


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According to The Pat Kenny Show Podcast, Smallhorne states:

“The first half of this film happened when I was 8 years old, and I came out of school and I saw a mother hanging out of a stool, hanging wallpaper with a pair of knickers on her head to protect her from the freshly painted ceiling. I looked up at this woman and said ‘this woman’s a star.’ And all the women on the street in Ballyfermont were like this. And at that moment I thought, this is a great movie.”

Smallhorne continues to explain that movie legend Maggie Smith was always his first choice to play Lily. He also credits Joan Allen, whom he had previously worked with, for reading the script. Once Smallhorne confessed that Smith was his first choice to play Lily, Allen told him that she shares the same talent agent with Smith. More miraculously yet, when Smallhorne said Kathy Bates was his first choice to play Eileen, Allen told him that Bates also shares the same agent with her and Smith.


When asked to describe why he wrote The Miracle Club, Smallhorne added:

“It’s a homage to the women of a generation who were raising eight, nine, ten, twelve (children), like, you know, there was one family around the corner with twenty-two kids. So I wanted to pay homage to that idea of what it takes to raise big families like that and behind that, the idea of birth and life was this idea that it came from God. I wanted to pay homage to them and I also wanted to find out what was behind that resilience that’s really emblematic of working-class culture.”

Although the characters in The Miracle Club may not be based on specific real-life people, they represent an entire generation of blue-collar Irish women that Smallhorne grew up admiring in the Dublin suburbs. The Miracle Club is available to stream on Netflix.


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