Directed By: Anthony Page
Starring: Richard Burton, Dominic Guard, David Bradley
Tag line: "Boyhood innocence. Deadly secrets. Burning truths"
Trivia: Richard Burton turned down an offer to play King Lear on stage in Canada in order to make this film
I went into Absolution, a 1978 film written by Anthony Shaffer, entirely fresh, with no idea what the movie was about. After the first few scenes, which take place at a proper British boarding school, I figured I was in for a coming-of-age drama, centering on a confused young man searching for his place in the world. But I had no idea how confused he truly was, and when the story took a turn towards murder, this peaceful little drama transformed into a tense mystery/thriller right before my very eyes.
Father Goddard (Richard Burton) is the Latin instructor at a Catholic boarding school, and his best pupil is Benjie Stanfield (Dominic Guard). Believing the young man has the makings of a great priest, Father Goddard is disappointed to learn Benjie has been hanging around with Blakey (Billy Connolly), a derelict wanderer and known thief living in the forest that surrounds the school. Father Goddard forbids Benjie from ever seeing Blakey again, angering the young student to the point that he plays a practical joke on the good Father, making a false confession to a grievous sin. Knowing full well the elder priest can reveal nothing without violating the sanctity of the confessional, Benjie then ups the ante by further confessing to killing Blakey and burying his body in the woods. But is Benjie just telling tales, or did he really do Blakey in? What's most frustrating to Father Goddard is that, either way, there's not a thing he can do about it.
Richard Burton delivers a solid (though occasionally hammy) performance as Father Goddard, a no-nonsense priest who commands the respect of everyone, from the students right up to the school's headmaster (Andrew Keir). Burton's Father Goddard is a highly intelligent man, and is always in control of every situation. The students have taken to calling him “God”, partly to mock him, but also because he rules his particular dormitory with an iron fist. When Benjie confesses to murder, the usually stoic priest begins to crack. Realizing his hands are tied by the confidentiality of the confessional, Father Goddard personally investigates the matter, and doesn't much like what he discovers.
As you might imagine, not all is as it seems in Absolution, and the story takes a few surprising twists along the way, most of which are effective (one might argue the final reveal is a bit of a stretch). If you're like me, and had never heard of this film before, then you'll want to check it out. Absolution may be the most nerve-wracking hidden gem you'll ever come across.