Film Review – Calvary on
Wednesday October 18, 2017
   // Film Review – Calvary
Written by Greg McInerney


Director John Michael McDonagh has returned to the big screen with another small-town Ireland caper Calvary, the story of a righteous parish priest Father James Lavelle played by Brendan Gleeson. Standing alone against the moral decay of his flock, Lavelle is informed during confession that he will be murdered in one week by a disgruntled parishioner who we are told was the victim of child abuse at the hands of the clergy. From this premise unfolds a suspenseful, archetypal who done it or rather who will do it murder mystery.

I remember being ushered by friends to my local house of screens to see McDonagh’s last effort The Guard, assured by even the more discerning of my compadres that it was a brilliantly funny piece. The film didn’t reach its billing in this reviewer’s eyes, in fact I didn’t think much of it at all. It was a rather stale, generic buddy-cop film, an inferior cousin to McDonagh’s brother Martin’s black comedy In Bruges, albeit sharing in its occasionally rhythmically funny dialogue. Calvary is worse than The Guard, it’s not just disappointing, it’s infuriating.

The film seeks depth that The Guard at least had the humility to avoid and alas fails miserably. Each character is a clichéd, sinfully obvious metaphor for some societal ill chipping away at dear ol’ Ireland. There is an African immigrant scapegoated by all around, the inexplicably ubiquitous Chris O’Dowd plays a shady butcher suspected to abuse his wife and most tediously predictable of all, there is a greedy, nihilistic Celtic Tiger banker painfully miscast in comedian Dylan Moran.

Brendan Gleeson of course gives a sterling performance and one could even be tempted into forgiving the film its pseudo-intellectual jabbings at a coherent critique of modern Ireland purely on the strength of his performance. He carries the gravitas and weather-beaten faith that McDonagh I’m sure wanted the character to display with considerable skill and aplomb. Clutching for other positive aspects of this film one might point to the sporadically superb cinematography and really quite well placed musical intrusions arranged by esteemed Irish composer Patrick Cassidy.

A simmering, underlying problem with The Guard and most of McDonagh’s work is amplified in Calvary, nostalgia. The message of the film, though clumsily muddled and delivered, is a tired refrain: Catholic Ireland had its problems but we threw the baby out with the bathwater, giddyingly entering a Gatsby-esque modernity in which all morality and its source was lost, in which the unreligious masses shout paedo at every priest in sight. McDonagh is right to see ill in modern Ireland but his Eucharistic offering of a return to religiousity is appallingly sentimental and misguided.

The film is doing remarkably well it must be said, no surprise in a land where even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. I doubt this poor review will diminish the films’ success but in a time where Ireland desperately needs art to offer reasoned critique and engaging counter narratives, Calvary offers nothing more than a sedate pining for a mythical Ireland of yesteryear. What did Marx call it, the opium of the people?

Greg McInerney


The Melting Press is looking for volunteers to contribute, if you’re interested in writing about anything from politics to sport, economics to film we want to hear from you, submissions can be sent to


Posted in Culture, Film & Television   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Add new comment

Leave a Reply


Net Neutrality

Tadhg examines the threats to the way we use the internet on both sides of the Atlantic.


Ireland & Alcohol

Sean talks about the peer pressure that surrounds drinking culture that pervades Irish society.


It's Not Us, It's You

Greg's thoughts on the rather "special" relationship maintained between the US and Ireland.


Victim Of Bureaucracy

Mark tells the story of a Multicultural Centre in Dublin CIty, its impact on the local area and it's struggle to survive.


Melting Press Media

The Melting Press is part of Melting Press Media, which includes our sister projects The Sporting Chancers podcast and The Melting Gamer.


About Us

We are an independent current affairs site which delivers a unique perspective on issues both in Ireland and abroad. We deliver more news related items in smaller bytes, our opinion pieces under comment as well as in our columns, and we also do the occasional feature about issues on a more personal level.


Follow The Melting Press on Twitter

Publish a login form or anything you want to this position.
Publish a registration form or anything you want to this position.