Calvary (film)

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A priest standing by the shore, a wave crashing behind him.
Movie poster
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Produced by
  • Chris Clark
  • Flora Fernandez-Marengo
  • James Flynn
Written by John Michael McDonagh
Music by Patrick Cassidy
Cinematography Larry Smith
Edited by Chris Gill
  • Reprisal Films
  • Octagon Films
  • Protagonist Pictures
Distributed by Entertainment One
Release dates
  • 19 January 2014 (2014-01-19) (Sundance)
  • 11 April 2014 (2014-04-11)
Running time
101 minutes[1][2]
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $8 million
Box office $16.9 million[3]

Calvary is a 2014 Irish Comedy drama film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. The film stars Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran and Isaach de Bankolé. The film began production in September 2012 and was released in April 2014[4] in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and August 2014 in the United States. The film was screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival[5] and at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.[6]


In a confessional, a parishioner talks to Father James about his childhood sexual abuse by a priest. He says he will kill James the next Sunday, because James is a good man and it would be worse and more disconcerting for the Catholic Church than killing a bad priest; in any case the offender has already died. James' daughter Fiona comes to visit from London after attempting suicide. She becomes closer to him but is still upset that he abandoned her after her mother's death to become a priest.

James hears that local butcher Jack Brennan is beating his wife Veronica and goes to confront him. Jack denies it and says he believes Veronica's Ivorian lover Simon is the culprit. At the church, James tries to talk Milo, a socially awkward young man, out of joining the Army.

James visits Michael Fitzgerald, a lonely millionaire who lives outside of town. He tells James that most of his money is illegal, but he wants to donate some money to the church. Before James leaves, Michael drunkenly urinates on the painting The Ambassadors.

Later at the pub, the townsfolk spot the local church burning down. Michael donates money to assuage his conscience.

At the pub, James talks to Frank Harte, an atheist doctor, who relates how a 3-year-old child was made permanently deaf, mute, paralyzed and blind after botched anesthesia. He explains to James that being unable to hear oneself scream is perhaps analogous to the silence victims of sexual abuse often impose on themselves; James is offended and angered by Harte's story. He subsequently gets drunk and starts a fight with the bartender.

Before heading to the beach on Sunday, James calls Fiona and tells her that people look too much at sins and not enough on virtues. He believes that the most important virtue is forgiveness. Fiona agrees and they make their peace with each other.

On the beach, James waits and it is revealed that Jack is his would-be killer (this was always known to James, having recognized Jack's voice in the confessional). Jack confesses to burning down the church but says he didn't kill James' dog. He asks if James mourned for his loss and the priest says he did. Jack then asks if James cried for the children traumatized by the Church; the latter replies in the negative, saying he felt detached as the crimes did not affect him directly. An angry Jack shoots James in the stomach. A young boy painting the beach runs over but when Jack points the gun at him, James tells him to run away. James tells Jack it is not too late but Jack replies that it is; he shoots James in the head and walks away.

Later, Fiona visits Jack in prison.




John Michael McDonagh conceived the idea for Calvary and wrote the screenplay while filming The Guard with Brendan Gleeson in late 2009. McDonagh explained the intentions he had for the film: "There are probably films in development about priests which involve abuse. My remit is to do the opposite of what other people do, and I wanted to make a film about a good priest." He elaborates that it is tonally "in the same darkly comedic vein as The Guard, but with a much more serious and dramatic narrative."[12] Gleeson's casting was announced in October 2011.[12] The casting of Chris O'Dowd, Kelly Reilly and Aidan Gillen was announced in February 2012,[8] while further casting was announced in August 2012.[10]

Principal photography[edit]

Filming began on 24 September 2012.[9] The production spent three weeks shooting in and around County Sligo primarily in the town of Easkey where the film is set and also on the Streedagh beach in north county Sligo, with some shooting in Ardgillan Castle Balbriggan Dublin followed by two weeks of filming in Rush, Dublin.[10]


Box office[edit]

Calvary had its world premiere at the Sundance Film festival, 19 January 2014. Fox Searchlight secured distribution rights for the US and select international territories.[1] Calvary made its European premiere in Berlin and Irish premiere as the gala opening of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, 13 February 2014.[14][15] Calvary opened in the United States in a limited release and grossed $74,149 from 4 theaters averaging $18,537 per theater. Calvary ended up earning $3,600,006 in North America and $8,512,000 internationally for a total of $12,112,006.[13]

Critical response[edit]

Calvary received positive reviews from critics and has a "certified fresh" score of 89% on Rotten tomatoes based on 144 reviews with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. The critical consensus states "Led by a brilliant performance from Brendan Gleeson, Calvary tackles weighty issues with humor, intelligence, and sensitivity."[14] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 77 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15]

Justin Chang of Variety magazine praised Brendan Gleeson for his soulful performance and called the film a "masterful follow-up to 'The Guard.'" and predicted near-certain critical plaudits into a distinguished arthouse reception for the film.[16] Tim Griersen of Screen International praises Gleeson for his performance and the film, calling it "A rich character drama that's equally eloquent and despairing, "Calvary" carries a weary resignation that feels lived-in and deeply considered." He cautions that the film might prove to be a hard sell as it examines religious faith and does not fit in an easily marketable genre.[1] Xan Brooks of the Guardian, comments on the self-referential nature of the film, and also calls the film "terrific (at least until the denouement, when it rather strains for grandeur)". Brooks gives the film 4/5.[17]

Praising Calvary for its treatment of its weighty thematic elements, Lauren Ely for First Things wrote, "Is it possible for a film to capture the horror of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church while at the same time presenting a case for the necessity of the institutional priesthood? Against all odds, this is exactly what Irish director John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary manages to do."[18] In his review, cultural commentator Fr. Robert Barron writes that the film "shows, with extraordinary vividness, what authentic spiritual shepherding looks like and how it feels for a priest to have a shepherd’s heart."[19]


Award Date of Ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
British Independent Film Awards December 7, 2014 Best British Independent Film Calvary Nominated [20]
Best Director John Michael McDonagh Nominated
Best Actor Brendan Gleeson Won
Best Screenplay John Michael McDonagh Nominated
Berlin International Film Festival February 17, 2014 Prize of the Ecumenical Jury Calvary Won [21]
European Film Awards December 13, 2014 European Actor Brendan Gleeson Nominated [22]
Irish Film and Television Awards April, 5, 2014 Best Film Calvary Won [23]
Best Lead Actor - Film Brendan Gleeson Won
Best Screenplay - Film John Michael McDonagh Won
Best Director - Film John Michael McDonagh Nominated
Best Supporting Actress - Film Orla O'Rourke Nominated
Best Original Score Patrick Cassidy Nominated


  1. ^ a b Tim Grierson (20 January 2014). "Calvary". Screen International. 
  2. ^ "CALVARY | British Board of Film Classification". Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Brendan Gleeson Gets Threatened For Being Too Nice In Calvary Trailer". Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  5. ^ "'Calvary' & 'The Last Days of Peter Bergmann' join 'Frank' at Sundance 2014". 11 December 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  6. ^ "| Berlinale | Archive | Annual Archives | 2014 | Programme - Calvary". Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  7. ^ Kemp, Stuart (9 February 2012). "Berlin 2012: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O'Dowd and Aidan Gillen Sign Up for John Michael McDonagh's 'Calvary'". Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c d Tartaglione, Nancy (9 February 2012). "Protagonist To Proffer John Michael McDonagh's 'Calvary': Berlin". Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Hall, Eva (3 October 2012). "John Michael McDonagh's 'Calvary' Begins Filming as Dylan Moran Joins Cast". Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Cummins, Steve (23 August 2012). "Exclusive: John Michael McDonagh Confirms 'Calvary' Production Date". Retrieved 9 September 2012. 
  11. ^ Kemp, Stuart (2 October 2012). "'Calvary': Dylan Moran, Marie Josée Crozé and Isaach De Bankolé Join the John Michael McDonagh Film". Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Lyttleton, Oliver (21 October 2011). "'The Guard' Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh Reteaming With Brendan Gleeson For Drama 'Calvary'". Retrieved 10 February 2012. around the same mark as the $7m budget 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Calvary". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  15. ^ "Calvary Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  16. ^ Justin Chang (20 January 2014). "Sundance Film Review: ‘Calvary’". Variety. 
  17. ^ Xan Brooks (20 January 2014). "Calvary: Sundance 2014 – first look review". Guardian [UK]. 
  18. ^ Ely, Lauren. "The Scandal of Calvary". First Things. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  19. ^ Barron, Robert. "“CALVARY” AND A PORTRAIT OF A REAL PRIEST". Word on Fire Article. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  20. ^ "Keira Knightly and Benedict Cumberbatch among British Independent Film nominees". Daily Mail. November 3, 2014. Retrieved November 3, 2014. 
  21. ^ "Irish film CALVARY wins independent jury award at the Berlin Film Festival". Irish Film Board. February 17, 2014. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Brendan Gleeson Nominated For 2014 European Film Award". IFTN. November 11, 2014. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  23. ^ "IFTA 2014 WINNERS". IFTA Academy. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 

External links[edit]