Director: Antonia Bird
Screenwriters: Jimmy McGovern

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


This film is as topical as it is controversial. Antonia Bird in this, her first feature film, tilts her lance at a couple of taboo subjects: incest and homosexuality in the priesthood. Heavy subjects these, and Bird treats them seriously, but she also manages to retain her sense of humor and sense of proportion. Priest is a provocative film, but it is also a film full of very human people grappling with a number of moral choices in very recognizable ways. It is also a highly effective and emotional drama.

Father Greg is a young Catholic priest—good-looking and energetic—who finds his conventional attitudes challenged by the new parish to which he is assigned. His first surprise is the outspoken Father Matthew, who is living openly with a woman. Shocked by this renunciation of the vow of celibacy, Greg finds himself increasingly uncomfortable when he tries to impose his churchly values on his parishioners. His own crisis arrives in a twofold manner: one day he strips off his collar, picks up a man in a gay bar, and spends the night with him. Shortly after, he hears the tearful confession of a young girl, who informs him that she is involved in an incestuous relationship. Bound by his vow of confessional silence, he finds himself powerless to help her, while becoming increasingly confused by his own relationship with his gay lover.

Priest transcends the weight of its subject through the evident sympathy Bird displays for her characters in their predicament. Each one is a living, breathing human being, full of contradictions. Not one of them is a two-dimensional cipher. Father Matthew’s homespun, but deeply thoughtful, challenge to the straitjacket of the Catholic Church is particularly effective, but this is only one highlight in a film that displays a refined maturity as well as a love of the need to ask questions.

— Piers Handling, Toronto Film Festival

Screening Details

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