1995 Directed by Antonia Bird. Starring Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Cathy Tyson, Robert Carlyle, James Ellis, Lesley Sharp, Robert Pugh.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 21, 1995
An audacious, compelling film that examines the lives of two diametrically opposed yet fundamentally similar Catholic priests in modern Liverpool. Young Father Greg (electrifyingly played by Roache, a relative newcomer to the screen) is the new kid on the block, sent in an effort to shore up a smallish, Liverpudlian parish that has obviously seen better days. Father Greg is a bit of a holy roller; his sermons ring with fire and brimstone and true religious fervor that loudly clash with the sermons of his fellow priest Father Matthew (Wilkinson), a laid-back, idealistic socialist whose own sermons sound more like breathy appeals for the Labour Party. To his dismay, Father Greg soon discovers that Matthew not only drinks to excess, sings on the Sabbath, and tries to get out the vote for local Labour leaders, but also keeps time with their housekeeper Maria. Father Greg's quite shocked, to say the least. When he learns in confession one day that a young parishioner is being sexually abused by her father, he finds himself trapped by the very doctrines he's been sworn to uphold. Unable to break the holy seal of the confessional and seek outside help for the girl, he turns his frustration in on himself and himself seeks solace in the arms of a lover. A male lover… which, of course, leads to further quandaries. Just when you think Priest is getting too, ah, preachy, director Bird injects a solid comic note into the proceedings to let a bit of the hot air out. When the two fathers are discussing the local Cardinal's distaste for Greg's lifestyle, Matthew says, “Oh, bugger the Cardinal!” and then quickly adds, laughing, “Don't take that literally, Greg.” The Catholic Church has vehemently publicized its opposition to Priest, much as they did with Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. However, Priest is less an object lesson about the Church itself than it is a tale about the fight for acceptance, and, ultimately, redemption. With a gut-wrenching climax and enough emotional baggage on board to weigh down even the Vatican's corps of Swiss Guards, Priest is a powerful, touching, and thoroughly riveting portrayal of a crisis in the clergy that rings wonderfully true every step of the way.