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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton




Directed by John Michael McDonagh (2014)

When I was on holiday in County Sligo it rained only once. For seven days. It got so bad I gave up walking and hitched a lift. A cheerful farmer-type gestured for me to get into the back seat with my rucksack and I sat down painfully on something hard. It was a shotgun.

Calvary is set amid these hills and lakes and a rocky coast cloistered by dampness and narrowed horizons. Milo (Killian Scott), a little simple, asks Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) whether a lack of sex is a good reason to kill yourself. Lavelle suggests he'll find more opportunity in the big city. “What, you mean Sligo Town?”

Suicide is a permanent presence here, so familiar they casually joke about it. Lavelle's daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly) arrives for a recuperative visit with bandaged wrists. She's told, she knows, she should have cut the veins lengthways.

When, during confession, the priest is told he'll be killed on the beach a week on Sunday, it seems to be the way of things. Lavelle has to decide whether to tell the police (criminal plans aren't covered by the usual rules of privacy) or, in effect, conspire in his own murder by making sure he turns up for the appointment.

While we wait to find out what he'll do we meet the inhabitants of the parish, all of them potential suspects since the rain has, apparently, rotted away every trace of their morality. All the rules have dissolved, the church, Lavelle himself, merely going through the motions, resigned to futility.

Indeed, as the last good man, Lavelle is the only one worth murdering, the only satisfying target for the anger and frustration of the would-be killer, himself the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. Taking revenge on someone bad, though, just wouldn't do the trick.

Aside from a redemptive closing twist, (some have found it a cop-out but we all need some hope to cling onto) this is a dark and disturbing story - told with jokes. In a true black comedy the two moods are in solution so you laugh uncomfortably, inescapably, at the horror and wonder what you're doing, what you are. But here, like a bad sauce, to use a catering metaphor, the elements have separated.

Calvary is populated by a host of colourful characters and good actors who have taken to the task with gusto. So much gusto that the whole thing becomes a little over-cooked, so that the light comic turns separate out from the darkness, as in a pint of Guinness.

But this isn't supposed to be good for you, and though it's still a brilliant idea and well worth seeing, it's not the great film it could have been.

May 2, 2014

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