Tag Archives: Catholic films

Preparing the Bride


by Rachel Willis

When Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley) is seven years old, her mother, out of a sense of duty and more than a little boredom, takes her daughter to church. So begins Cathleen’s love affair with God.

And it is a love affair, as Novitiate seeks to show its audience as it follows Cathleen from that first encounter to her time as a novitiate seeking to become a bride of Christ.

As a postulant (the first step in becoming a nun), Cathleen meets the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), a woman who joined the convent 40 years earlier and has not left the convent in those 40 years. With the introduction of the Reverend Mother, the film branches into two narratives. We see the convent through both Cathleen and the Reverend Mother on the eve of monumental changes to the Catholic Church.

If writer/director Margaret Betts had kept her story limited to these two perspectives, we would be treated to a tighter film. Cathleen is a mostly silent observer, her few words devoted to her devotion to God, but we see a great deal through her. When the film branches off to follow other postulants in the convent, as well as a sister questioning her faith, we lose the intimacy established in the beginning with Cathleen.

Betts is aware that many in the audience will not understand what it takes to become a nun, nor will they be familiar with the Church in the early 1960’s, so there are a few moments of exposition. However, they never feel heavy-handed or forced. It feels as if we’re entering as a postulant, then a novitiate, with Cathleen.

As our eyes into this world, Qualley is phenomenal as Cathleen. She brings an intensity to the role that is needed to understand the level of commitment to Christ it takes to become a nun.

Leo as the Reverend Mother brings a different level of intensity, one that not only explains her devotion to Christ, but her faith in the perfection of the Church as Vatican II seeks to alter the world to which she’s given her entire life.

There are moments when the film sinks into melodrama, and some scenes feel unnecessary to the story, but it’s a captivating glimpse into a world few of us witness.

Modern Martyrdom


by Hope Madden

Has the Catholic Church so comprehensively betrayed the nation of Ireland that it would take the second coming of the Messiah to set things straight?


The ever more impressive writer/director John Michael McDonagh may not be trying to rectify the Church’s situation, nor is he bringing about revelation. Rather, he offers a microcosm of the fallout with insight, humor and compassion in Calvary.

Brendan Gleeson, as brilliant as always, plays Father James, a good priest. As the film opens, we sit inside the cramped confessional as Fr. James waits for the penitent on the other side to begin.

“I first tasted semen when I was seven years old.”

It’s not a confession so much as an announcement. The parishioner, whose face we never see, spent a childhood of horrifying abuse at the hands of a priest. But what good is it to kill a bad priest? If you want to really send a message, you kill a good priest.

He gives Fr. James a week to get his affairs in order and makes a date to take his life. “Sunday week, let’s say?”

It’s almost too ripe a premise, really, and yet McDonagh’s never stoops to melodrama, or even thriller. As Fr. James goes about his week tending to his parish and reflecting on what’s to be done about this threat, we get the unique perspective of a good, decent man with a collar.

The dry, insightful, exasperated humor that saturates McDonagh’s writing is a thrill to take in, and Gleeson has never been better. Never showy, without a hint of sentimentality, he brings this decent but hardly sinless man authentically to life.

As Fr. James’s week drags on, McDonagh and his ensemble slowly amplify the wickedness of the townsfolk, creating, finally, a real parallel between the plight onscreen and the allusion of the title. But nothing about Calvary is even moderately preachy.

The priesthood is not what it used to be – not for them or for us. And it may be too late to save the Catholic Church. But a filmmaker who can hold up a mirror to our troubled times and find weary humor and redemptive humanity in it is inspiration in itself.