A review by Shlomoh Sherman
April 19, 1995

Priest (1994)
Director: Antonia Bird
Writer: Jimmy McGovern
Stars: Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Robert Carlyle |
Plot Summary: A homosexual Catholic priest finds out during confessional that a young girl is being sexually abused by her father, and has to decide how to deal with both that secret and his own.
Plot Keywords: closeted homosexual - homosexuality - girl - church - priest
Tagline: One man is about to challenge two thousand years of tradition.
Genres: Drama - Romance
Country: UK
Language: English
Release Date: March 24, 1995 (USA)
Filming Locations: Blundellsands, Merseyside, England, UK
Box Office:
Gross USA: $4,176,932
Company Credits:
Production Co: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Miramax, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Technical Specs:
Runtime: 105 min
Sound Mix: Dolby SR - Dolby
Color: Color
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA):
Rated R for depiction of mature themes involving sexuality Parents Guide: See below
Awards: See below


This is my review of the movie PRIEST which I had the good fortune to see in early April of 1995.

The movie deals with two Roman Catholic priests who officiate together in the same church. The older priest cohabits with their housekeeper in a romantic relationship, and the younger priest is a homosexual who has a liason with another man.

This theme of Catholic clergymen leading sexual lives seems to be the issue that had the Catholic Church clergy up in arms. Probably everyone reading this has heard that they wanted it boycotted. The one cardinal who cried the loudest had not even seen the film but made pronuncimentos based upon what others had told him about the film, and it seems to me that they did not relate the film to him with the proper emphasis.

It is already well known that when religious people take it upon themselves to boycott a film, it backfires on them. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST grossed more money than it would ordinarily have because groups of Christians gave it undue publicity by publicly protesting it. But it seems that people don't learn from history.

There are many things I can say about the film. I happen to have liked it very much. In this review, I will only deal with one aspect, the character of the young homosexual priest. My own belief is that the author of the story introduced homosexuality into the character of the priest for reasons having nothing to do with sexuality at all, but to highlight the particular character defect of this particular priest, and that the character of the priest is really more than that of a particular clergyman of a particular denomination. This priest stands for a certain religious TYPE which can be found among the leaders of ANY religion. I believe that the author used the Roman Catholic priesthood for no other reason than that the RCC is the religious institution that he is most familiar with. I believe the author is a Catholic himself.

The young priest finds himself irresistibly drawn to other men so that he simply cannot overcome whatever religious taboo there exists in Catholicism against homosexual behavior. So unable is he to fight against this urge that he even tells the older priest that when he turns to Christ for help against his sexual urges, he sees the form of a naked man which he finds desirable. All this sexuality, however IMHO, is just mechanism to set off against a matter that arises later on in the film. The matter is as follows. A young girl comes to him for confession and reveals to him that she is, and has been, the victim of on going sexual abuse, and there is no one to help her. The young priest wants to help her but he does not go to the authorities because he feels that he cannot break the Church law of the confidentiality of the confessional. Because he does nothing about it, the young girl continues to be abused.

Here is the crux. When it comes to his own bodily and emotional needs, he does not fight against the Church law against homosexuality - but when it comes to someone else, he is willing not to break the Church law.

The details of the contrast are not important. The movie, deep down, is neither about homosexuality nor child molestation. It is about the weakness of people and their rationalizations, no matter how well meaning those rationalizations may be. When it comes to the self, what is ok for the self is not ok for the OTHER. This is something that all of us have been guilty of at one time or another. It is a universal problem that the film presents to us. Of course there are other issues dealt with in the film, but this one is of the utmost importance. How do we let ourselves get away with what we won't allow when it comes to others? It is a call for forgiveness and a search deep within that leads us hopefully to repentance.

That the author used the double themes of anti-celibacy and homosexuality is a matter of current style. Both of these issues have been thrust at the public by the media over the past few years. They are ongoing problems that the Church does not deal with very well, and they have existed within the Church for many centuries. The dilemnas presented by the film transcend sexuality which is only a vehicle for the much larger issues.

We are supposed to be our brothers' keepers. That is a responsibility that involves understanding, compassion, and forgiveness far more than it involves condemnation and self-pride.

The film is well worth the seeing regardless of what your own religious stand is.

New York 4-19-95

Powerful and Intense - John's review on the IMDB site - August 2, 2003

The ending of this film at the communion rail, is the MOST powerful scene I have ever seen in any movie for a long long time. It will have you sobbing like a baby, guaranteed. Film is an emotion charged look at the Catholic Church's problems and cover-ups concerning a closeted guilt ridden gay priest's sexual desires, and a little girl being molested by her disgusting father who relates in the confessional not for penance, but to tell the priest it is his right and not to interfere. Priest has guilt over his sexuality and about the confession, but he can not tell about the girl because of church rules. Meanwhile it's found out about his being gay with parish congregation and church hierarchy is in an uproar. Linus Roache plays gay priest. His performance is outstanding. Very thought provoking movie. makes you think for weeks afterward about guilt and redemption. I gave it 10/10. This movie blew me away with it's intense plotting, powerful themes and the courage to film it with such insight. Recommend this film very highly but have a box of tissue for final 5 minutes. I warned you.

Priest (1994)Awards

BAFTA Awards 1995 Nominee Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film George Faber, Josephine Ward, Antonia Bird
Australian Film Institute 1995, Nominee Best Foreign Film Award Antonia Bird
Berlin International Film Festival 1995, Winner Teddy Best Feature Film Antonia Bird
Chlotrudis Awards 1996, Nominee Chlotrudis Award Best Actor Linus Roache
Edinburgh International Film Festival 1994, Winner Best New British Feature Antonia Bird
Santa Barbara International Film Festival 1995, Winner Audience Choice Award Antonia Bird (director)
Toronto International Film Festival 1994, Winner People's Choice Award Antonia Bird

Priest (1994) Parents Guide

MPAA Rated R for depiction of mature themes involving sexuality

Sex & Nudity:
A father forces sex upon his daughter. We can hear it well, but nothing is shown.
Two gay men have sex. In some versions, the protagonist's buttocks are shown.
There are several scenes of two men kissing

Alcohol, Drugs & Smoking:
People shown smoking. People and priests drink throughout the film, sometimes in a bar.

Frightening & Intense Scenes:
A girl has some sort of seizure in a classroom as a result of sexually abusive thoughts.
A man gloats and defends his crimes against his daughter, which include sexual abuse and incest. Very disturbing.

The Catholic Church in Ireland were very vocal about their views in having the film banned from theatrical distribution. The film censor disagreed and the film was released with an 18 certificate. This marked a major turning point in the relationship between the church and the Irish Film Censor board.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights were so outraged by the film's subject and its release date over the Easter weekend that they called for all their members to boycott anything Disney-related.
Director Antonia Bird was forced to cut a whole scene of Linus Roache's bare behind to ensure only an R rating in the USA, instead of a notorious NC-17.

Composed by Curly Putman
Performed by Tom Wilkinson
Copyright Tree International
by kind permission of Burlington Music Co. Ltd./Warner Chappell Music Ltd.
Composed by Mauricio Venegas
Published by Fireworks Music Ltd.
QUIAQENITA (Trad.) Arrangement by Mauricio Venegas Published by Fireworks Music Ltd.
GREAT BALLS OF FIRE Written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer Copyright 1957 BRS Music Corporation All rights assigned to Hill & Range Songs Inc. Administered in UK by Carlin Music Corporation
HE AIN'T HEAVY HE'S MY BROTHER Composed by Bob Russell & Bobby Scott Published by Harrison Music Corporation & Jenny Music Administered by Chelsea Music Publishing Co. Ltd.
THE FIELDS OF ATHENRY Composed by Pete St. John Published by Celtic Music
GOOGY THE LIVERPOOL DUCK Composed by Don Woods Published by Cyphen Music
ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART Words & music by Burt Bacharach/Hal David Copyright 1963 U.S. Songs Inc. Copyright 1962 renewed New Hidden Valley Music for Burt Bacharach/Casa David Music for Hal David Administered in UK by Carlin Music Corporation Performed by Dusty Springfield Courtesy of Polygram Record Operation Ltd. and Warner Special Products
YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE Written by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II Published by Williamson Music
LET'S ALL JOIN TOGETHER Written by Andy Ford Published by Tabitha Music Ltd.

Cast overview, first billed only:
Linus Roache ... Father Greg Pilkington
Tom Wilkinson ... Father Matthew Thomas
Robert Carlyle ... Graham
Cathy Tyson ... Maria Kerrigan
Lesley Sharp ... Mrs. Unsworth
Robert Pugh ... Mr. Unsworth
James Ellis ... Father Ellerton
Christine Tremarco ... Lisa Unsworth
Paul Barber ... Charlie
Rio Fanning ... Bishop
Jim R. Coleman ... Funeral director
Bill Dean ... Altar boy
Gilly Coman ... Ellie Molloy
Fred Pearson ... Patrick
Jimmy Gallagher ... Mick Molloy

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