If the movie is a polemic, it is an attack not just on the Catholic Church but also on the hypocrisy that infects mankind.
Now that Bob Dole and Cardinal O'Connor have labeled "Priest" the subversive force of the '96 elections, we may as well start talking about what it is and isn't, because the movie has already become a sword in the hands of the sanctimonious: It is a movie about hypocrisy.
Now that the question of priestly celibacy has been exposed to sunshine, the light of public debate may even pierce the deceit that cloaks the issue. Antonia Bird has directed a vibrant movie for the BBC by building on a spinning core of humanity as embodied by two unquestionably spiritual men. The sexual needs of Father Greg (Linus Roache) are in full conflict with the youthful rigidity of his own ideals. Carrying a churchly tool chest of orthodox remedies to his new job in a Liverpool parish, he is confronted immediately by the affair between the senior priest, Rev. Matthew Thomas, and his housekeeper, who are living together contentedly in a committed affair of heart and body.
Feeling, in his own words, "evil and sick inside," Father Greg exchanges his clerical collar for a black leather jacket and cruises a gay bar, where he begins an affair with Graham (Robert Carlyle). The young priest cannot extend forgiveness to himself, and he does not question the sin of celibacy--for himself or for Father Matthew.
The seasoned Father Matthew has made peace with himself, knowing absolutely that neither his humanity nor his dedication to Christ is compromised by loving a woman. His younger colleague is tortured by his fear that loving a man may make him unworthy in his own devotion.
Father Greg's rigidity crumbles when he learns, in confession, that a 14-year-old girl is being forced to submit to her father on a regular basis. He cannot "break the seal of the confession," which imposes a sentence of silence on the one person who could break the grip of a father who says, "Incest is human." Words are the young priest's only tools.
The power of this movie lies in the biting script by Jimmy McGovern, who has framed the moral issues with an extraordinary mix of humor and fury. Linus Roache, as Father Greg, embodies the questions and the anguish, while Tom Wilkinson, as the older Father Matthew, answers with an independent man's accommodation that is poised to explode into rage when the orthodoxy fails both priest and parishoners. This is the story of that failure.
If the movie is a polemic, it is an attack not just on the Catholic Church but also on the hypocrisy that infects mankind. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is as much a reproach to the rest of us as it is to the Catholic hierarchy.
An outstanding cast, a fine director, and a first-rate writer have taken on delusion with an ironic, angry humor. Rarely are the self-righteous of this world confronted so strongly with their pieties. It's about time.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h59m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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