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Father Michael McKinnon goes from the UK to Boston circa 1935. For unknown reasons, he avoids at all costs the most prominent parishioners, Arthur and Eleanor Barret. Meanwhile Eleanor and Arthur desperately want to have a child, but Arthur is sterile, so they hire Harvard law student Roger Martin to impregnate Eleanor, but unfortunately Roger falls in love with her. Written by
Love it or hate it, and the opinions seem to be pretty evenly divided, this is a compelling film because of the performances of three fine actors--Kenneth Branagh, Madeline Stowe, and William Hurt. The story is incredibly far-fetched but, a la Six Feet Under, because it deals with emotions and fantasies we've all felt, it works in some sort of quirky way.
Madeline Stowe is absolutely radiant--confused, vulnerable, strong, passionate. William Hurt perfectly combines the ruthless Wall Street professional and the condescending tenderness of a man of his time. Branagh is a cypher whose screen charisma makes him riveting.
Some of the nitpicking in earlier reviews seems wrong to me. The Mass vestments are exactly right for the solemn high mass of that period, as is Branagh's demeanor. Extreme Unction can in fact be administered for a short period after death, though not, of course, on a corpse in a coffin. In fact, the only reason to open the coffin before burial is so that Eleanor can see who it is that's being buried.
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