“Killing a priest on a Sunday, that would be a good one know.” During a confessional, Sligo priest Father James is told that he will be killed on the next Sabbath, not because he is a bad priest, in fact quite the reverse, but because he is a well-respected man of God and well thought of by his congregation. He has been subjected to this death threat to atone for the sins of the Catholic Church and a paedophilic priest that was never brought to justice and has since passed away. The confessionee tells of systematic abuse where sexual acts were performed on him as a young lad over a period of many years leaving him in a disturbed state. We spend the following week in the company of Father James who knows who has threatened him, but we are left to guess which of his rather unsavoury parishioners will or will not carry out the death threat.
We get to meet the human flotsam that are continually challenging James Lavelle’s commitment to his faith. There’s the rich local tycoon (Dylan Moran) whose wealth had not stopped his wife and children from leaving him, the cuckolded local butcher (Chris O’Dowd) whose promiscuous wife Veronica (Orla O’Rourke) seems to be up for sex with any one except her husband and her latest conquest Simon (Isaach de Blankole) an African motor mechanic and there’s a very cynical doctor (Aidan Gillen) who seems to be obsessed with suffering and we must not forget the sexually frustrated Milo (Killian Scott). As one of our audience remarked during the discussion that followed the screening, “more a whose-gonna-do-it than a whodunit.” Like John Michael McDonagh’s first feature film The Guard (2011) Calvary (2014), which is the penultimate film of this seasons Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club programme, has little to do with social realism and is far darker than his debut movie and is not a comedy, black or otherwise!
Introduced by Julie McMorran who informed us that McDonagh, who was born in England of Irish decent, also wrote the screenplay for tonight’s film and was the brother of writer and director Martin McDonagh who was responsible for Six Shooter (2004), In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012). Both of the brothers have a slightly different approach to presenting a story, which normally allows a sense of compassion for the main protagonist and both tend to use Irish actors including Brendon Gleeson who played Donnelly in Six Shooter, Ken in In Bruges, Gerry Boyle in The Guard and Father James in John Michaels latest film.
Unlike the young priest in his church Father James is not naive man but one who has lived and loved in the non-secular world. He has been an alcoholic, was widowed and has a daughter who comes to visit him from her home in London. In fact some of the most tender and emotional scenes in the film are between the priest and his daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) who has recently attempted suicide. It was generally agreed by the RBCFT audience that this well written film got very much darker as the story went on and did not have the humour that the directors debut film contained. However it did set out some very interesting questions mainly involving people’s faith and their belief in a superior being. Described as a ‘terminal illness melodrama’ a powerful, and at times moving story, about a man who is deemed guilty by association and like Christ is punished for the sins of others.