The following comes from an Apr. 17 posting on

In the eyes of many, the revelations of the past few years have ruined much of the Church’s credibility.  The evils of the abuse perpetrated by priests, professed religious and laity have struck at the very heart of the Church’s identity. The pain and anguish this has caused is perhaps felt strongest in Ireland, not only because of the huge number of scandals that have come to light, but also because of the role of the Church in Irish life and society.  The scandals have taken their toll. Mass attendance, generally used as the good judge of both religious belief and trust in the institutional Church, has fallen from 91% in 1972 to 30% in 2011.[i]

Prior to watching Calvary, then, I expected this Irish Film Board-funded film to present a view of the priesthood and of the Church which was entirely negative, without any redeeming qualities.  But what the film achieves is much more powerful.  By simply showing a faithful priest, the film points to the weakness and failure of other priests who abuse their position and, through their position, other people.

Father James Lavelle is parish priest of a remote village on the west coast of Ireland.  He is clearly a talented and clever man – much cleverer than his parishioners and his curate – and shows genuine concern for the people he serves. He isn’t in charge of a wealthy parish: his church is little more than a hall, and his bedroom is sparsely furnished with whitewash walls and no photographs.  He is left alone with small children on a number of occasions throughout the film and, while the audience expects some kind of impropriety to take place, nothing happens.  The serial adulteress in the village flirts with him and, again, nothing happens.  His daughter arrives, but we soon discover she was conceived from his marriage before he entered seminary.

The film is utterly absorbing, mainly because the tension begins to ratchet up almost as soon as the film begins: somebody enters the confessional and tells the priest that he will kill him in a week’s time, giving him a week to put his house in order.  It is, as Father James himself says, a pretty startling opening line.  Father James knows who the person is; we do not, and so this film is not some kind of tawdry whodunnit.  Instead, we follow Father James as he puts his life in some kind of order while continuing to serve his people who are in various stages of moral decay, from extra-marital affairs to paying for rent boys, from drink and drugs to financial collapse.  The strength of the acting of these characters is extraordinary….

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran

Certificate: 15 (100 mins)

UK release date: 11 April 2014

To read the original posting, click here.