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Film Review: Calvary


Frances Winston has only good things to say about this latest Gleeson/McDonagh collaboration 

Directed by: John Michael McDonagh – Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, David Wilmot, Pat Shortt, David McSavage, Dylan Moran

After the huge worldwide success of The Guard, the news that Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh were collaborating again was greeted with great excitement. However, anyone expecting the laugh out loud humour of their first outing together may be disappointed here, as this is more of a black comedy that deals with some very dark and dramatic issues. 

Gleeson plays Father Lavelle, a good priest who took his vows after the death of his wife. While Lavelle is hearing confessions, a parishioner threatens to kill him, to avenge years of abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest as a child. Explaining that it makes more of an impact if he kills a good priest who has done nothing wrong, he gives Father Lavelle just over a week to sort out his affairs. The threat coincides with a visit from his daughter (Reilly) who is battling her own demons having attempted suicide. As father and daughter reconnect, Lavelle is forced to confront his mortality and his choices, as life, both good and bad, goes on around him in his Sligo parish.

This is a completely character-driven drama, and features the cream of Irish acting talent. Even the most minor character is well rounded, and there are some amazing performances – especially from Gleeson as the tortured Father Lavelle. After the shock opening where he is handed his death sentence, he carries his weary resignation right through to the end. At no point does this feel judgemental, thanks to McDonagh’s masterful writing and directing. Rather, there is an inevitability to it all. The scenery is beautiful, and this contrasts with the underlying ugliness of the premise.

This is difficult subject matter. Everyone is aware of the extent of abuse within the church, and there are thousands of people walking around still affected by it. Indeed this year’s Pride Grand Marshall, Colm O’Gorman, has spoken at length about the clerical abuse he suffered. However, McDonagh handles it sensitively, and you understand the victims reasoning in threatening Lavelle, while equally feeling sympathy for the innocent priest. We get to see both Lavelle, and his motley crew of parishioners, at their most grotesque, as well as at their most charming. There are several sub plots that are as deeply affecting as the main story, and the whole movie is treated with a reverence deserving of the victims of such crimes.

This avoids preaching and just sticks to simple storytelling, and as a result it stirs numerous emotions in a viewer. The ending will literally leave you with a lump in your throat, and you’ll be processing what you saw for some time afterwards. The religious undertones may put off some people, which would be a shame, as this is a beautifully crafted film that moves you on every level, and deserves to receive many plaudits.

In cinemas April 11

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One comment on “Film Review: Calvary

  1. I saw the trailer and admit it looks good.

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