Brian Henry Martin at the movies

Gleeson's Turbulent Priest

Published Thursday, 10 April 2014
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If there is one Irish film to see in 2014 it is Calvary. Not only is it wickedly funny and darkly profound but rather brilliantly explores the complexity of contemporary Irish faith.

"I'm going to kill you Father" whispers a disturbing voice "Because you are not guilty, because you are innocent." This is the captivating opening scene to Calvary, the new film from the writer/ director of The Guard, John Michael McDonagh.

On the windswept West Coast of Ireland, Brendan Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a good priest driven by spiritual integrity. Then one day, his faith is rocked to its foundation by a chilling confession, when an unseen man tells Father James that he's going to kill him precisely because he's done nothing wrong. This menacing confessor reveals he was the victim of boyhood sexual abuse and states his murderous mission; they will meet on the beach the following Sunday, where the killing will take place. This is a shocking and thrilling premise.

Father James has only one week to make his peace with God, so sets out to minister to an assortment of lost souls in his Sligo parish, visits that double as a guided tour of suspects. Among them are a sharp-tongued butcher (Chris O'Dowd), a cynical chain-smoking doctor (Aidan Gillan) and a corrupt alcoholic businessman (Dylan Moran). Father James' preparation for death is further complicated by the arrival from his former life of his daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who has recently attempted suicide.

Following on from the huge success of The Guard, John Michael McDonagh has created another classic black comedy, but this time weaves his gallows humour into a philosophical reflection on faith. Rooted in the biblical story of Calvary's two thieves, one redeemed, one damned, this is a parable about modern Ireland. Set amongst the moral ruins of the post Celtic tiger boom and bust, where the church's influence has waned and the Priest suddenly finds himself not at the heart of the community but at the centre of a gathering storm.

Who would kill a good Priest? It would appear everyone in this vengeful town has a motive.

We observe Father James reading a newspaper brandishing the headline 'The Wild Wild West'. Sharply observed, as writer/director McDonagh has created a vintage Western which like High Noon climaxes in a dramatic showdown.

The cast is a who's who of Irish talent with strong supporting performances from David Wilmot as a doubting young priest, Orla O'Rourke as the butcher's wayward wife and Domhall Gleeson as an unrepentant lifer. However Calvary belongs to Brendan Gleeson, resplendently flame haired with white bearded whiskers framing that cuddly rugged face. As Father James contemplates his own impending doom, Gleeson's pitch perfect portrayal pushes us closer to the cliff edge of a soulless society.

Calvary is a landmark film, one that fifty years in the future, will still reveal the spiritual turmoil of our time.

Calvary (Cert 15) is now on general release

© UTV News
B. H. Martin
B. H. Martin

Brian Henry Martin is an accomplished documentary filmmaker and UTV's resident film critic, appearing regularly on UTV Live Tonight.

No matter what the film, there's a good chance Brian has seen it.


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