Watching Calvary

Brendan Gleeson as father james lavelle in calvary, a film directed by john michael mcdonagh - HeadStuff.orgThe cinema-goer sits in a packed cinema in Castlebar (54 degrees North, 9 degrees West) on Good Friday, watching Calvary. The film is reviewed as a comedy, particularly by media outlets in London (51 degrees North, 0 degrees West).


No one in the cinema laughs.


And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.


Castlebar is near the settings in Sligo (54 degrees North, 8 degrees West) where the majority of the film is beautifully shot by Larry Smith. The cinema-goer says ‘hats off’ to Larry for his fine work throughout.



The film is in the sentimental tradition of the (in)famous John Hinde postcards of the west of Ireland. It is packed with quirky characters, straight out of post-modern Oirish central casting. They are engaged in a picaresque meander through a plot-less drama, where the antagonist – The Roman Catholic Church – gets off lightly.

Brendan Gleeson and Chris O'Dowd in John Michael McDonagh's Calvary film, butcher scene, beef -

The protagonist and other characters are fey and whimpering. They lack agency. They are boozers, variously violent, abusive, hurt, traumatised and odd. Except for the bereaved French woman, who is beautiful and steadfast, even when the baggage-handlers at the airport insult her and the remains of her dead partner by leaning on his coffin as it waits beside the plane on the tarmac.


Is there a degree of self-loathing in the film-making?


That image contrasts with Bill Doyle’s images of a funeral procession on Inis Oirr, in his book, Island Funeral. Never sentimental and, elevated by Bill Doyle’s artistry, they are beyond real, yet rooted there.


The cinema-goer wonders how much inter-play there is between realism and surrealism in the film-makers’ minds.


And, of course, there is an appeal to irony. Is it possible to be ironic on film?


Consider the scene when the priest’s daughter returns to London. She is seen on a balcony, against a backdrop of high-rise glass and metal towers and in front of a clean-cut cappuccino. Are the bandages removed from her wrists? This could be read ironically. She has been ‘healed’ by leaving Ireland and returning to London? No one in the cinema finds it comedic. Do we find London modern and desirable? Better than our home-place?

brendan gleeson and kelly reilly star as father and daughter in Calvary film -


After watching Calvary the cinema-goer reads glowing reviews in the press and on IMDb. They bear no resemblance to the cinema-goer’s experience.




Why do we see the priest shot in the head, twice?



Disorder, horror, fear and mutiny ?

Shall here inhabit, and this land be call’d ?

The field of Golgotha and dead men’s skulls.


No one laughs. Does ‘black’ comedy really mean ‘bad’ comedy?


Brendan Gleeson and Aidan Gillen as the priest and the doctor in Calvary film by john michael mcdonagh -