Absolution

Overblown.
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1978
Director: 
Anthony Page
Starring: 
Richard Burton, Dominic Guard, David Bradley, Billy Connolly
The Setup: 
Resentful boys at a religious school start messing with their teacher.
Discussion: 

Someone recommended this to me, and the premise sounded interesting, so to the top of my list it went. Then the idea of Richard Burton in a religious academy drama sounded so dreary the disc sat on my desk for a week, and was fairly irritating when I finally watched it.

This is written by Anthony Shaffer, purveyor of IMPORTANT! 70s fare such as Sleuth and The Wicker Man. We open with Billy Connolly on a motorcycle arriving at this boys’ academy. He asks Richard Burton as Father Goddard [pronounced GOD-ard throughout, for anyone whose symbolism sense is set anywhere less than top strength], who is quite dismissive. Goddard is quite a snide, unflappable, vaguely derisive jerk, who fawns over star student Benji Stanfield, and obviously can’t stand whiny handicapped simp Dyson. He yells at Dyson in front of the class [the jerk is always asking stupid what-if questions anyway], and then asks perfect puppy Stanfield the answer, which he always knows.

So eventually Stanfield runs into Connolly out in the woods, and they come to be friends. This is the beginning of a rebellious streak in Stanfield, as well as a little man-crush on Connolly. Now during one clearly expository lesson, Burton lays out that anything said in confession is a sacred secret, and the priest couldn’t tell anyone or go to the police, so soon Stanfield goes and tells Goddard that he had wild sex with Connolly’s girlfriend while the biker watched. Goddard is freaked, but can’t do anything.

SPOILERS > > >
Then Stanfield says he killed Connolly, and Goddard runs out there, only to find he’s been made a fool of. Then Stanfield says he’s done it for real, and when Goddard checks again, there is in fact a body. Then more confessions, more real or imagined crimes, and lots and lots of Burton being all freaked out and not knowing what to do. It all ends with a shocking revelation, blah, blah.
< < < SPOILERS END

I found it quite tedious. Personally, I just don’t find dramas that center around adherence to religious edicts and the whole idea of pushing at traditional religious power to be especially compelling. Goddard can’t tell what’s been confessed to him—big deal. So what. Goddard isn’t that interesting a character, he’s just a dismissive jerk at the beginning, not much beyond that, so the idea of seeing his unsettled isn’t really that engaging. And pair all that with the overblown acting of Richard Burton—I don’t know anyone else who would portray emotional anguish so baldly by contorting his face, staring upward and freezing—and the whole thing can quickly become more irritating than anything. And let’s just say they succeed very well in making little Dyson an irritating little simp one might want to drive searing hot pokers into. The only one with any kind of arc here is Stanfield, and that, too, is predictable, tedious and tendentious. Furthermore, the overblown, self-congratulatory IMPORTANCE of the whole thing [the Anthony Shaffer effect] just alienates one. This is one of those things I just wanted to get out of my house.

However, I must note that I can see how someone could very much get into this: if you got INTO how self-important and overblown everything about this is, you could really have quite a hoot with it. Especially Burton and his crazy hamming. It IS released in the “Cheezy Flicks” series, so clearly someone sees it that way, and I wish them well with it. Not my cup of tea, but I can understand how those with a taste for pompous, bombastic religious drama could have quite a laugh with it. If so, go with my blessing.

Should you watch it: 

If you enjoy laughing at massively overblown self-importance, Richard Burton, and hand-wringing religious drama.