Let this cup pass

This is my review of Calvary [DVD] [2014].

On the bleakly beautiful coast of Sligo, Father Lavelle ministers to his eccentric flock of sinners with compassion leavened by dry wit, and tolerates his blinkered sidekick. A widower and former alcoholic, Lavelle is no unworldly paragon of virtue. In the opening scene, a disembodied voice in the confessional box calmly announces the intention of killing him on the beach the following Sunday, not in spite of but because of the fact that Lavelle is essentially a good man. This will be some kind of confused way of obtaining closure for childhood abuse at the hands of another priest. How should Lavelle respond to this threat?

The film follows the course of Lavelle's life for the following week with an element of "whodunnit" in advance. Can we guess the identity of the would-be assassin? This is not really the point, which is whether, in modern fractured and increasingly secular Ireland, the sacrifice or "Calvary" of a Catholic priest can have any meaning. By turns satirical and serious, and overall quite original, the film is patchily successful – some characters are too caricatured and the dialogue is at times somewhat contrived, as in the case of the local police chief's grotesquely camp and sinister lover – or that's what I took him to be.

The one small detail which grated on me was a local corrupt banker's apparent ownership of Holbein's painting "The Ambassadors", which everyone knows to be in the National Gallery, London – I accept this may have been intended as a touch of humour. Overall, the film is worth watching, although it takes a period of reflection to form a judgement on the ending. The musical soundtrack is also good.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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