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Priest Movie Review

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For reasons which escape me, the 1994 movie Priest made the hierarchy of the Catholic Church far more nervous than 1993's The Boys of St. Vincent, a superior telefeature eventually broadcast in prime time on the Arts and Entertainment network. There were NO effective role models on that disturbing study of sexual abuse and its subsequent cover-up by Catholic brothers in a Canadian orphanage for young boys. No clergy member in Priest remotely approaches the evil villainy of St. Vincent's Brother Lavin, chillingly played by Henry Czerny. Antonia Bird's 1994 film reveals the ongoing moral dilemma faced by many Catholic priests today and suggests that the Church remains stubbornly out of touch with the tormented souls it professes to care for. Father Greg (Linus Roache) is a young Catholic priest determined to play by the book. “Sin is sin,” he snaps at Father Matthew (Tom Wilkinson) when he discovers that the latter is sleeping with Maria the housekeeper (Cathy Tyson). But both Father Matthew and Maria are unrepentant about their living situation and tell Father Greg to mind his own business. For Father Greg, that includes a secret life in gay bars where he picks up Graham (Robert Carlyle). It also includes his self-doubts about the secrecy of the confessional when Lisa, a 14-year-old parishioner tells him about her incestuous relationship with her father. (Here's a tip for kids watching the film who are lucky enough to find a sympathetic priest who'll listen to their complaints about parental sex and/or violence; if you tell them outside of the confessional, great priests—and they do exist—can do something to help.) Father Greg feels powerless about his lover, especially when Graham shows up in Church on Sunday for Communion, and about Lisa, especially when her sociopathic father threatens him. Filmmakers before Bird (including Alfred Hitchcock with I Confess and Mike Hodges with A Prayer for the Dying) have had difficulty explaining the secrecy of the confessional to general audiences. But Father Greg, for all of Roache's fine acting, would be a dim bulb about his life choices even if he weren't a priest. For example, if you want to have a private sex life AND be a dogmatic theologian, don't have sex on a public beach. It all gets very melodramatic after that, and Priest, unlike The Boys of St. Vincent, never quite escapes its television origins. But it asks some searching questions, many at least as agonizing as those raised by Peter, the Church's first Pope, on a grim Good Friday almost two thousand years ago. (Cast Note: Tom Wilkinson, who gets all the best, most compassionate, and sanest lines as Father Matthew in Priest, later played the irate Marquess of Queensbury opposite Stephen Fry as Oscar and Jude Law as Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas in the 1997 film Wilde.)

1994 (R) 98m/C GB Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Cathy Tyson, Robert Carlyle, James Ellis, John Bennett, Rio Fanning, Jimmy Coleman, Lesley Sharp, Robert Pugh, Christine Tremarco; D: Antonia Bird; W: Jimmy McGovern; C: Fred Tammes; M: Andy Roberts. Nominations: Australian Film Institute ‘95: Best Foreign Film. VHS

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