Music

John Michael McDonagh on confessionals and Calvary

Josh Larsen

The new film Calvary has been receiving a lot of praise, including here on TC, for its nuanced portrayal of a Catholic priest, played by Brendan Gleeson. I recently interviewed the writer and director, John Michael McDonagh, for the Filmspotting podcast I co-host, and I'm glad to be able to share our talk here.

I wanted to focus on Calvary's remarkable opening scene, which you can watch below. It takes place in a confessional booth and sets up the main narrative thread of the story. Gleeson's Father James listens as an unidentified parishioner tells him that he plans to kill him in one week’s time. The parishioner is seeking revenge for the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of another priest when he was a child. The fact that Father James is innocent of such crimes is – perversely – exactly why he’s being targeted. In this man’s view, Father James is to be the sacrificial lamb atoning for the sins of the Catholic Church.

In the interview, McDonagh talks about why he wanted to open his film this way, the role that confessionals can play in movies and one of the things he most wanted to emphasize about Father James: "It's a man doing his job."

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure