a film by Antonia Bird
1994 | 105 mins | UK
›› Priest
a powerful take on homosexuality and the priesthood
Priest by Antonia Bird Following the sudden departure of a local priest, Father Greg finds himself assigned to a tough working class parish in Liverpool. Fresh faced and complete with his own highly conservative views of how to deliver the Roman Catholic word of God, he is soon to find his righteous approach to religion in stark contrast to the methods employed by his mentor Father Matthew; one who sees the Church more as a social vehicle by which the help the impoverished members of the community.

Yet such is the least of his concerns, given Father Matthew is having a blatant sexual relationship with his housekeeper Maria. Only let he who is without sin cast the first stone. And the sin in Father Greg's case is homosexuality and a path of temptation that comes by way of a local hunk named Graham and a one-night stand that rapidly shows signs of developing into something far more meaningful. Only is there any future for their relationship, given that homosexual love, let alone sex, by the ordained is the sin of sins.

With a script written by noted playwright Jimmy McGovern, it goes without saying that there's a lot going on in this film. Yet the central theme of religion and homosexuality and the reconciliation of both in the face of the Christian dogma of the Roman Catholic Church has been dramatically cut short, by an additional plot development that frankly hijacks the entire feature. And put it this way, we're talking incest here.

Priest by Antonia Bird In short, this powerful work cites the Christian sin of homosexuality against the universal sin of incest. In doing so, it turns the spotlight on the hypocrisy of the Church, when the seal of the confessional seemingly cannot be broken, even to save the mental anguish of a teenage girl from a man who is clearly unrepentant in the physical acts he subjects his daughter to, against vows of celibacy that are hereby cast aside without any sense of guilt or remorse.

Thankfully in depicting such the relationship between Linus Roache as Father Greg and Robert Carlyle as his lover is to the core and the sexual core at that too. And yet such is never fully realised, with Carlyle's compelling work, like that provided by Cathy Tyson as Maria reduced to being the support act to Tom Wilkinson's tour-de-force portrayal of liberal minded Father Matthew. For it is by way of his character that we see the compassion that the Church preaches, only to withdraw, when one of their own turns out to be gay. Or should that be - openly gay?

Winner of numerous awards including The Teddy Best Feature Film Award at the 1995 Berlin International Film Festival, the result nevertheless comes so close and yet so far from truly exploring the plight of those who devote their life to a religious doctrine that condemns their very sexuality, even if it be a finely acted drama that pulls no punches in illustrating the sheer hypocrisy of the Church.
available on DVD as part of the Miramax Classics collection
starring: Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Carlyle, Cathy Tyson, James Ellis, Lesley Sharp,
Robert Pugh, Christine Tremarco, Paul Barber, Rio Fanning, Anthony Booth
Copyright 2005 David Hall - www.gaycelluloid.com.
archive reference #064
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