Set in rural Ireland, Calvary is the penetrating story of a Catholic priest, Father James Lavelle (a brilliant Brendan Gleeson), his ministry and his treatment at the hands of his parishioners. Sweeping views of a beautiful, but empty landscape focus in on a small Irish village and a select number of characters, echoing a story that is large in scope but detailed in its focus.
The context is framed by the faceless confession of one of James’s parishioners and the Father’s face-to-face meeting with the same man exactly a week later. In the initial conversation, the confessor tells James that as a child he was abused by a Catholic Priest. He vows to wreak his revenge by killing the, albeit innocent, Father James. What follows is a week of Father James continuing with his normal ministry, but in the face of mounting animosity.
This film could be about the Catholic Church’s sordid history of covered-up child abuse. It could be about its exoneration. It could be about man’s loss of faith in the centuries-old Catholic faith. Or man’s desperate clinging to a purpose higher than himself. On the face of it, the film could simply reflect the ironic Christian reversal of a priest “crucified” for the church’s sins against its own.
Calvary is about all of these and much more. It’s a story about real people and their real, individual struggles. From Father Leary, to the atheist doctor; from the homosexual policeman, to the oversexed housewife; from Father James’s daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), to others in between.
Every individual is a complex, well-developed character with a past, and with deep serious issues. Father James is just the counterpoint in this well-balanced, exquisitely acted film.
Calvary is a profound film that is a credit to director and writer John Michael McDonagh. It opens at NuMetro cinemas in South Africa on 12 September.