Calvary (4 stars)


Brendan Gleeson, Dylan Moran and Chris O'Dowd star in a thoughtful Catholic comedy-drama

Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh reteam following lacklustre 2011 comedy The Guard in this much more thoughtful examination of Catholic guilt. They're joined by the cream of Irish film and TV talent, including Chris O'Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen and Gleeson's son, Domhnall.

Gleeson Sr plays Father James, the kind of priest who gives the Catholic church a good name: wise, witty, kind, non-judgemental, unpious and not without a few demons of his own. It's his very goodness that makes him a target for assassination, a threat hissed at him by an anonymous parish member during confession: killing a bad priest would be expected, but the death of a good priest, to atone for the sins of the Church – that would make a statement.

As James spends his last week 'getting his house in order', we're treated to exceptional performances from all his parishioners: in addition to the aforementioned Irish talent, M Emmett Walsh pops up as an American emigre novelist, while Kelly Reilly is James' London-residing daughter. If anything lets the film down slightly, it's the sometimes unsubtle symbolism that underlies each of James' relationships: the Church in relation to science (in the shape of Gillen's doctor), to finance (Moran's monied land-owner), to homosexuality (Owen Sharpe's rent boy, somewhat out of place in a rural parish).

Still, the aforementioned performances shine in bringing to life McDonagh's screenplay, which is packed with wit, pathos and subtly powerful face-offs (witness the scene between Gleesons senior and junior, the latter playing a prisoner looking for absolution). Calvary is a reasonably good analysis of Irish Catholicism's role in the age of atheism, but it's much more valuable for its depiction of a good man attempting to live and die by his own set of morals.

Reviewed at Glasgow Film Festival 2014. General release from Fri 11 Apr.

Calvary Official Trailer #1 (2014) - Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly Movie HD


  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • Ireland
  • 1h 41min
  • 15
  • Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
  • Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen
  • UK release: 11 April 2014

Father James (Gleeson) is a priest, but a good one; wise, witty, kind, non-judgmental. Then he's told that he's to be killed to atone for the sins of his church. McDonagh's film features exceptional performances from a great cast, and a witty and powerful script, far more thoughtful than 2011's lacklustre The Guard.


1. Jack Clarke26 Mar 2014, 7:47pm Report

Looks amazing, but I had to comment on The Guard. That movie was anything but lackluster, it was a classic!

2. Matthew Rogers26 Mar 2014, 8:04pm Report

Have to agree with Jack, "The Guard" was superb. This article loses all credibility with its opening sentence!

3. Richard Clare26 Mar 2014, 10:29pm Report

I third that. The Guard was very good.

4. Drew James26 Mar 2014, 10:53pm Report

And me. Lacklustre my Feckin Arse!

5. Margaret Gatling27 Mar 2014, 3:38am Report

and coming in as objector no 5.....I loved The Guard. Incredibly funny with some really poignant scenes.

6. Senga27 Mar 2014, 12:02pm Report

The Guard wasn't all that.

7. Niki at The List27 Mar 2014, 12:24pm

If you thought I was harsh about The Guard, you should see what the other guy said:

8. Iain Smith27 Mar 2014, 12:51pm Report

The Guard was, to coin a phrase "feckin brilliant" no way lackluster.

For shame, for shame I tell you

9. Emmett Greene27 Mar 2014, 11:10pm Report

The Guard was epic and it has a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

10. Donald Nammer10 Apr 2014, 2:15pm Report

I'll never understand why people think The Guard was anything better than average. It was a fitfully funny mess. Looking forward to this though.

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