PRIEST is the story of the Roman Catholic Church as evil
personified and of a gay priest who likes being a priest, but is
trapped by the Church's restriction against gays. The people in it all
suffer from major depression and ultimately the theme is their
unfulfilled quest to break the chains of their miserable lives. I keep
thinking to myself as I watched it, this is all hogwash, but it is so
well crafted, I am glad I came to see it.
From the get go, the movie hits you over the head with its
anti-religious theme. It starts with an older priest, Father Ellerton
(James Ellis), who looks like a wino, carrying a huge crucifix,
battering ram style. He hates his bishop (Rio Fanning) for sacking
him, so he is going to break out the stained glass window the bishop is
standing in front of. Later this same bishop wishes the gay priest
dead and in general seems to be playing the role of the devil.
The new priest, Father Greg (Linus Roache), arrives to replace
Father Ellerton. When Father Greg first walks in, the other priest in
the parish, Father Matthew (Tom Wilkinson), is lecturing his
congregation. The sermon sounds rather reminiscent of a Socialist
Workers speech. This irritates the much more traditional Father Greg.
He tells Father Matthew to stick to religion and leave the politics
Father Matthew, as does everyone in the movie, has some major
problems to deal with. At the rectory he has a live in girlfriend,
Maria Kerrigan (Cathy Tyson), he is sleeping with. Father Greg
lectures him severely over this egregious sin. Father Greg explains
how it is okay since he has been done it before. Now, there is a
Soon we find that Father Greg is gay, and he falls in love with
someone he picks up in a bar, Graham (Robert Carlyle). Next we have a
father (Robert Pugh) and a daughter (Christine Tremarco) tell Father
Greg in the confession booth about their incest. He wants to help but
is bound by his oath of secrecy. He is a good person trapped in a job
which ill suites him.
All of the above is merely the setup for this complex picture.
There are numerous characters each with their own anguish to share with
us. The one message that come across loud and clear is that the church
is to blame for much of the misery in the world. At one point, Father
Greg starts screaming at a crucifix and telling Jesus what a lousy job
he is doing.
Although the plot is 180 degrees from my personal beliefs, I
thought the director (Antonia Bird) and the writer (Jimmy McGovern)
fashioned an extremely compelling and thought provoking movie. The
movie was carefully cast. The acting was good, and the part by Linus
Roache was outstanding. He was able to convey a wide emotional range
by just his pensive set of looks. His speech was careful and
controlled except the yelling scene mentioned above.
The cinematography (Fred Tammes) was dark and gray. It added to
the movie and never overpowered it. He was especially adept at the
extreme close up shots of which there are many. It was filmed in poor
neighborhoods in Liverpool and Manchester which fit the script well.
My only major problem with the show, other than ridiculous
depiction of the church, was the ending. Some will undoubtedly like
the symbolism of the ending. For me, it was too overblown and
manipulative. On the other hand, I found myself, while I was watching
PRIEST, wondering how they would try to end such a strange show. I had
no good ideas then, and I have no suggestions now.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes