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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Priest

Starring: Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson
Director: Antonia Bird
Rated: R
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: March 1995
Genres: Drama, Gay/Lesbian

*Also starring: Cathy Tyson, Robert Carlyle, James Ellis, John Bennett, Rio Fanning, Jimmy Coleman, Lesley Sharp, Robert Pugh

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

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 out.

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 convincing argument.

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

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