6.2/10
1,284
5 user 7 critic

To Kill a Priest (1988)

A young priest speaks out against the Communist regime in Poland and is killed for it.

Director:

Agnieszka Holland

Writers:

Michael Cooper (English adaptation), Agnieszka Holland (screenplay) | 2 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Christopher Lambert ... Father Alek
Ed Harris ... Stefan
Joss Ackland ... Colonel
Tim Roth ... Feliks
Timothy Spall ... Igor
Pete Postlethwaite ... Josef (as Peter Postlethwaite)
Cherie Lunghi ... Halina
Joanne Whalley ... Anna
David Suchet ... Bishop
Charlie Condou ... Mirek (as Charles Condou)
Tom Radcliffe Tom Radcliffe ... Young Soldier
Wojciech Pszoniak ... Bridge Player (as Wojtek Pszoniak)
Johnny Allen Johnny Allen
George Birt George Birt ... (as Georges Birt)
André Chaumeau André Chaumeau ... (as Andre Chaumeau)
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Storyline

A young priest speaks out against the Communist regime in Poland and is killed for it.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

R | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

France | USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 October 1989 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Popieluszko See more »

Filming Locations:

France

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film is based on the true story of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a Catholic priest and Solidarity supporter who was murdered by agents of the Polish secret police. See more »

Quotes

Father Alek: A government by brute force is not a government.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The UK theatrical version was heavily cut by 3 minutes and 41 seconds for a '15' rating:
  • [Reel 4] After man escapes with stolen dog in car, remove sight of dog's head trapped in window as it is wound up (to conform with Cinematograph Films [Animals] Act 1937).
  • [Reel 5] In murder of priest in forest, reduce number of blows to his head.
  • [Reel 6] Reduce to minimum necessary to establish plot the sequence in which priest's head is covered with plastic bag before he is thrown into river, removing in particular all close shots of bloody face through plastic.
  • [Reel 6] When captain returns home to wife after committing murder, remove sight of her legs over his shoulders during sex as well as his facial reaction to orgasm (whole scene removed by distributor).
The video release reinstated much of the cut material and was upgraded to an '18' rating, but still removed 21 seconds of footage (replicating the first compulsory cut to animal cruelty). See more »

Soundtracks

The Many Crimes of Cain
Written by Georges Delerue
Performed by Joan Baez
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A strange mix
20 March 2000 | by Tin Man-5See all my reviews

"To Kill A Priest" has all the things that can make a movie great. Great direction, a powerful cast, good chemistry between well-defined actors, and a strong premise. Where is falls short is in the core. It is almost told from a newsreel's perspective, briefing the audience on an event rather than actually presenting any specific theme. Therefore, many multiple themes can possibly be drawn out of this, and while this fact keeps the film from being a masterpiece, it certainly doesn't make it a bad film.

Inspired from actual events, the story centers around Father Alec (Christopher Lambert), a young, charismatic priest who isn't afraid to go against the system in his home in 1981's Poland. In a land ruled by Communism, he is a strong voice for Soliditary, and the people love him. Likewise, Stefan (Ed Harris) is a secret police officer who loves his country and he thinks that communism is the only way, and people like Alec are only getting in the way. He is emotionally disfunctional, and his family life is a wreck. Haunted by a painful past, he thinks that if it is possible to eliminate Alec, the people of Soliditary would run scared.

Hence, the film presents two sides of the story, about two men who love their country and their people, and how they each interpret what they believe to be Poland's needs. Along the way, the film also speaks of both corrupt polititians and cowardly priests (led by Joss Ackland and David Suchet, respectively), and how Alec and Stefan both try to use both to get their work accomplished. Both provide very powerful defenses for their visions and actions, and both are very committed to a destiny which will collide them together.

Mostly, this film is a collection of excellently-directed bits of dialogue which are magnificent to behold. The scenes in which Lambert tries to defend his work to Suchet sizzle with intensity, likewise do the scenes between Harris and Ackland. The subplots involving Joanne Whalley and Pete Postlethwaite are also compelling and thought-provoking, and the performances of all the actors are nothing short of majestic.

What then, is missing? The fact that the film takes no sides, and presents both sides of the argument equally. Therefore, though the bits of dialogue at the beginning and end seem to lean towards Alec's cause, the center of the film never really states which side it is taking....that of communism, or that of soliditary. Because of this, any message that the film is trying to make is lost in the balance to time spent on each argument. This might have been the point of director Agnieszka Holland, but if it is, then it was a bad idea. It would have been more effective if he had chosen to follow one of the arguments and run more rampant with it. If this had been the case, than history might have been changed with the ballot for best picture at the Academy Awards of 1989 reading "To Kill A Priest."

However, because of this flaw, the film is very compelling, in spite of itself. Most thoughts of communism nowadays only bring to mind thoughts of stereotypical, mustache-twirling villians. However, due to the time spent on both sides of the spectrum, this is proven not to be true. Stefan commits the acts he does because he honestly believes he is doing what is best for his family, and he isn't ashamed of any of it. This side presented to communism is quite intriguing, and it shows that one doesn't have to be evil to be on the side of evil. Hence, due to the lack of a single theme, multiple themes are presented, and while they might not be as powerful as a film with simply one to expand on, the emphasis on them all is thoughtful, if uneven.

*** out of ****


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