"Why did they make them so big? Why didn't they just give the money to the poor?" The question about cathedrals was asked by a student to Mr. Harvey during a school field trip to Salisbury Cathedral. "That's a good question," he replied. "Partly to inspire them - to get them to look up with awe." I'm not sure that cathedrals have that impact on everyone, but this movie certainly had that impact on me. It was awesome!
It didn't start out that way. For a while it seemed to be little more than a depiction of - well - a school field trip to Salisbury Cathedral. If you've ever been on a high school field trip to anywhere this is basically it. You have a group of largely disinterested kids just happy to be out of school for a day, the bus driver who's driven crazy by them and some teachers trying desperately to keep it all under control. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt was my initial reaction. I figured that in the end this was going to be a typical story of a teacher managing to inspire a group of disinterested students. YAWN! But it turns out to be so much more! Timothy Spall was brilliant as Mr. Harvey - a sombre, unsmiling teacher with a strange fascination for cathedrals. Over the course of the movie, his story slowly comes out and becomes the focal point of the story. We also get introduced to some of the troubled students - most notably Helen, also brilliantly played by Nathalie Press, who's into self-mutilation.
This isn't a religious movie, but it includes some powerful reflections on religious themes. When Harvey's colleague Jonathon (played by Ben Miles) says "I don't care what anyone believes as long as they don't try to force it on anyone else" Harvey replies, "that isn't tolerance - it's indifference!" - which is, in fact (in my opinion) what often passes for religious tolerance in our society. There are scenes of reconciliation between various characters, and the final scene of the movie was brilliant. As Harvey climbs back on the bus, director Susanna White has the camera slowly pan upwards, so that the final shot is simply of the sky - hearkening back to Harvey's comment that the purpose of the cathedral is to get people to look up in awe. The cathedral accomplishes its goal. We look up into the universe in awe, seeking something greater than ourselves, however we choose to define it. This is a very powerful and very inspiring movie. 9/10
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