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Film Review: Calvary
by Rose Finlay

John Michael McDonagh, Great Britain/Ireland

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is an amiable Catholic priest who is told during confession that he is going to be murdered by the end of the week. This is not the result of anything Father James has personally done, but the confessor was raped as a child by a priest and intends to make a statement about the atrocities of the Catholic Church. As Father James continues with his week, he is faced with seeing his small Irish community in a whole new light.

Calvary is an unflinching examination of the festering problems of Irish society. With the proclamation of his upcoming death in the opening scene, Father James’ eyes are opened to the underlying sickness of his community. Alcohol abuse, casual racism, the banking crisis and the general corruption of the Catholic Church are all examined through the lens of black comedy. And black it is, for as the week goes on, Father James finds his faith in God and his community greatly tested.

He begins to see just how little he is respected in his community despite all of the support he gives. In one particularly harsh scene, he is walking down a road and bumps into a preteen girl. They have a nice chat and then her father drives up fast, yells at her to get into the car and questions Father James with great suspicion before driving away. Despite his good intentions, the general corruption of the church has led to suspicion and indeed aggression against this “good” priest. Considering the power dynamics in Ireland where the Catholic Church has always dominated culturally, actions in recent years has caused irreparable damage to reputations of priests.


With a title like Calvary, which is a biblical reference to the place where Christ was crucified, it is easy to see that Father James is supposed to be a modern-day martyr. He is presented with all of the stereotypical challenges of martyrdom throughout the film. As a witness to the great problems within his society and his religion, he faces trials and tribulations in order to hopefully create something better. And indeed he does, for despite the dark and violent nature of the film, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just as hopefully there is hope for Ireland and the Catholic Church as a whole.