Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Fantasy double bill: Priest / An Ideal Husband

PRIEST from 1994 is a difficult movie tackling a difficult subject. It highlights the many conflicts of being a modern-day Roman Catholic priest. Upon arrival at his new parish (somewhere near Liverpool it seems), Father Greg (Linus Roache) quickly becomes embroiled in a series of no-win situations. His fellow priest (Tom Wilkinson) is having a clandestine affair with the housekeeper (a underused Cathy Tyson); and a young girl reveals while in the confessional that she is the victim of incest by her father or stepfather - he tries to advise her but should he intervene or is he bound by the rules of the confessional?; and he himself has his own secret desires, which are revealved as he gets involved with an initial casual pickup (Robert Caryle).

Father Greg’s conservative version of Roman Catholic faith appear to be no match for the very real problems of life in his very ordinary English parish. A crisis of faith ensues as his fellow clergy and the parish in general are dragged along unwittingly and unwillingly. As directed for the BBC by Antonia Bird and scripted by Jimmy McGovern it makes for grim viewing as our priest gets caught in a compromising situation with his lover and he gets fined in court and is naturally on the front page of the local paper. The climax with our isolated priest on his own during the communion ceremony with his bigoted parishioners (led by the unlikeable Anthony Booth) all going for communion to the other priest is painfully out of date now - their bigotry is not challenged. This is all a very 90s view of gays - and makes the drama very dated now. Only the child whose confidence he could not break goes for communion to him, as though she forgives him, as they both collapse in tears! Full credit though to Roache, Carlyle and Wilkinson for their full-on commitment. The drama though is an angry polemic against the strictures of the Church.

(An amusing update: Linus is the son of William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow in the long running (50 years!) English soap series CORONATION STREET, and he looks very like his father. He joined the series this year playing his father's long-long son who turns out to be very homophobic and cannot get on with his gay son, played by another of William's sons!)
And now for something completely different:

Despite the fact that it was written over a century ago Oscar Wilde's AN IDEAL HUSBAND resonates strongly with today's politicians and the stories we read of policital corruption. Wilde of course knew all about secets and lies - this was his last play and he was in prison about 6 months later. This one involves a rising government minister (Hugh Williams) threatened with blackmail and ruin by the scheming Mrs Cheveley (the glittering Paulette Goddard) who knows what he did in his youth to gain his fortune: selling government secrets and insider trading. He is now a morally upright prig loved by his adoring wife (Diana Wynyard) who could not love him if he had flaws. This is more than the usual Wilde comedy such as THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, dealing as it does with the pursuit of power and the cost of success. Mrs Cheveley wants him to back her scheme which he knows is fraudalent or she will expose his past to his wife ....

It is a glittering production by Alexander Korda with gowns by Cecil Beaton - maybe dated now and very '40s, but still fascinatng at this remove. The whole cast excels: Michael Wilding is the ideal dandy about town Lord Goring who assists Wynyard in defeating Mrs Cheveley, and Glynis Johns is just right as the ideal girl for him. There was of course that later rather lightweight production with perfect in their own way Colin Firth and Rupert Everett (who also were in the re-activated IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST) but this 1947 version is the one to see (as is the 1952 Asquith IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, with that too perfect cast). There is also now a new production of IDEAL HUSBAND currently in London which has been getting rave reviews, a testament to its timeless values and dazzling entertainment.

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