Calvary – Review

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One Sunday morning, like any other Sunday morning, in a sleepy western Irish coastal town, Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is taking confession.

He’s taken aback when a the confessor tells him that he was abused by a priest as a child, his abuser is now dead, so he intends to avenge the injustice by killing a good priest. The man gives Father James a week to sort out his affairs.

Over the course of that week, Father James goes about his business as usual, doing his best to help members of his congregation – such as the local butcher (Chris O’Dowd), his flirtatious wife (Orla O’Rourke), her lover (Isaach De Bankolé), the atheist doctor (Aiden Gillen), the supercilious lord of the manor (Dylan Moran), the local loser (Pat Shortt) and the cantankerous reclusive American (M Emmet Walsh), to list but a few.

A visit from his suicidal daughter (Kelly Reilly) and a fatal road accident in the town help him to focus his mind on what’s really important.

As the following Sunday approaches, and the tension builds up a head of steam, his faith and morality battle with common sense as he struggles with how to deal with the threat against his life, but ultimately, like the good man that he is, Father James faces his fate with dignity.


With the same writer/director and star of The Guard, the high hopes many have for Calvary will be surpassed. It’s a slower burner with a less involved plot but more engaging characterisation.

John Michael McDonagh’s screenplay is one of the sharpest and smartest for years, as it switches between drama, jet-black comedy, nail-biting thrills and theological debates – whether between Father James and his straight-talking bishop (David McSavage) or his doubting parishioners.

The performances – from Brendan Gleeson’s dominating sympathetic presence to the universally impressive supporting characters – fully do justice to McDonagh’s vision. Comedians Chris O’Dowd and Dylan Moran adapt well to darker material than they’re used to, while it’s a particular delight to welcome M Emmet Walsh back to the big screen after too long.

McDonagh delivers an original take on a highly topical subject – with the Pope seeking forgiveness for abuse by priests only this week – as he concentrates not on a paedophile priest but on a wholly exemplary clergyman who finds himself caught up both specifically – and more generally – in the aftermath of the scandal.

An element or two of the story fail to ring true and at times it can feel a little incoherent or contrived, but with top-notch performances, delivering a first-rate script to tell a powerful and intellectually enriching story, against the backdrop of astonishing beautiful countryside and beaches, Calvary is a thoroughly rewarding experience.