Director: Anthony Page
Screenplay: Anthony Shaffer
Starring: Richard Burton, Dominic Guard, Dai Bradley, Billy Connolly
Duration: 85 mins / 95 mins
BBFC Certification: 18
Written by Anthony Shaffer, best known for his writing of Sleuth and The Wicker Man, and starring well renowned British actor Richard Burton, Absolution is a mystery style chiller set in a Catholic boarding school for boys.
Having never seen this movie before and with little knowledge of it, I was not sure what to expect. Despite a somewhat slow build up, the film is full of different twists and turns, complimenting the spiral of confusion surrounding its main characters. It has just enough of these twists and turns dotted throughout the film to stop boredom kicking in, and the ending twist does a good job at helping you forget the quieter moments of the film.
Directed by Anthony Page, Absolution has a distinctive feel of a play, with its build up of characters and limited use of locations. This feeling is intensified at times due to Richard Burton’s distinctive old school stage presence. As a result, I was not surprised to learn that the screenplay for Absolution was in fact adapted from one of Anthony Shaffer’s unperformed stage plays, Play with a Gypsy.
The film follows the story of Father Goddard (Richard Burton) an authoritarian priest, and his close encounters with the young boys in his care at a typically British boarding school for boys. Centred initially around the relationship of Father Goddard and his pet student ‘Benjie’ (Dominic Guard), the film portrays the desperation and despair of Father Goddard as he tries to digest the uncharacteristic antics of Benjie Stanfield, revealed to him during confession.
The role of Father Goddard is in keeping with many of the roles both on stage and screen that Richard Burton has portrayed throughout his vast acting career. Maybe not his greatest performance, coming across a little hammy at times, reminding us of his considerable background in Shakespearian theatre. Despite this, overall his performance is good, and the gradual build up of anger and frustration before the final moment of madness and despair is still convincing enough. Let’s face it, Richard Burton’s personal life is far from that of a Catholic priest.
Richard Burton aside, the two main boy actors, Dominic Guard who plays ‘Benjie’ and Dai Bradley who plays ‘Dyson’, along with the other supporting actors, give a convincing performance which certainly measured up to my perception of boys who come from a Catholic boarding school, not that I have any real knowledge. The addition of Billy Connolly as ‘Blakey’ further supports a great cast, and a little bit of Connolly banjo music helps contrast the darker moments of the film.
Ear marked as a promising future Catholic priest, Benjamin Stanfield (known to his friends as Benjie) rebels against Father Goddard in protest of his disrespectful and cold treatment of others. Whilst walking the grounds, ‘Benjie’ meets up with ‘Blakey’ an unemployed ‘happy go lucky’ traveller played by Billy Connolly. After hearing about the friendship during a false confession made by Benjie, Father Goddard, bound by the rules of confession, finds other means to dispose and break up what he considers to be an unwelcome and disruptive friendship.
The story continues with two further confessions of murder, one of which when investigated by Father Goddard, turns out to be a hoax. This all takes its toll on Father Goddard who feels betrayed and humiliated by his best student and who is torn between his vows of confession as a Catholic priest and the pain of his findings when the second and real murder is uncovered. This confusion and torment comes to a head, in a final revelation and perfect ending shot, which mimics that of the demise of sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) in Anthony Shaffer’s cult classic The Wicker Man.
This release comes with two versions of the film, The Directors cut and the Original Theatrical release. Following the filming of Absolution there was a disagreement between Anthony Shaffer as the screenwriter and Anthony Page the director, as to how the final cut should look. Shaffer’s ideal which was not supported by Page, was to include scenes that (without giving too much away) would help the audience come to their own conclusion as to who the murderer was and their motives. However, Page ditched this idea, keeping us steered down the same path till the very end. Both have merit, but I must admit personally I enjoyed the more abrupt twist at the end. I didn’t see it coming at all and it was totally unexpected.
Although this film has a similar feel to that of Anthony Shaffer’s previous offering of The Wicker Man, it does not perhaps share its intensity, with a much slower build up and a subtler demise of the lead character. Despite this, Absolution is worthy of a viewing and in my opinion deserves much more credit than it has received by film critics in the past.
This new high definition remastered Blu-ray is released by Powerhouse and includes the following extras:
• Audio commentary with film historian Kevin Lyons, editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television
• Interview with director Anthony Page (2018): a new interview with the great theatre, film and television director
• Interview with actor Dominic Guard (2018): a new interview with the young star of the film
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery: promotional photography and publicity material
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an overview of contemporary critical responses, historic articles, and film credits