Sunday, 6 April 2014

Absolution (1978)

Boasting both Richard Burton and Billy Connolly, as well as a couple of talented younger performers, this is a 'Drive In Classic' with a surprisingly strong cast.  They even have a decent, if somewhat melodramatic, script to work with.  Said script comes courtesy of Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote a couple of the better known Agatha Christie adaptations of the era (Death on the Nile, for example), but is probably best known for The Wicker Man.

I'll go on record as saying I liked Absolution better than Shaffer's more famous work.  I think The Wicker Man is a little overrated, overall.  It was probably confronting and disturbing back when it was released, but that doesn't translate too well, 40 years later.

Enough of The Wicker Man, however.  Absolution has Burton as Goddard, a priest teaching at a private boys' school.  Two of his students are the popular and intelligent Stanfield, and the socially awkward Dyson. Goddard finds Dyson's nebbishness hard to tolerate and is often brusque or cold toward him.  Stanfield, meanwhile, is one of his favourites and he hopes the young man will follow his path into the clergy.

Things start to go awry, however, when Stanfield becomes friends with drifter and small time thief Blakey (Connolly), who is camping in the woods near the school.  Goddard tries to forbid the boy from seeing this 'bad influence' any more, but a spirit of rebellion has been ignited in Stanfield: one that will progress through harmless pranks to quite cruel practical jokes and then to ... well, let's just say that it seems Stanfield has plenty of need for the confidentiality of confession.

As Goddard sees his hopes for his protege become fear and loathing of the viper in their midst, he struggles with the fact that his faith and vows are allowing terrible deeds to go unpunished.  Questions of faith were also central to The Wicker Man, and seem to be a theme that interested Shaffer.

I liked this. It's a bit melodramatic, as I said, but it's a well-acted and solidly made thriller.  Worth a look.

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