Middletown Dwyer Review (Nov 2006)

Gimme that old time religion

Michael Dwyer ****

Irish Times 3/11/06

Reviewed - Middletown:

BRIAN Kirk's striking first feature film presents an unprepossessing picture of life in a small Northern Ireland town at an unspecified time, although the period trappings suggest the late 1950s or early 1960s.Gerard McSorley plays Bill Hunter, who runs the local garage with his younger son, Jim (Daniel Mays). Daily life seems mundane there until the return of Jim's clergyman brother, Gabriel (Matthew Macfadyen), from missionary work in Africa to take over the parish that is his hometown.

A prologue of juvenile malevolence set 15 years earlier establishes the violent undercurrents that will surface so devastatingly when Gabriel takes it on himself to rid the town of what he regards as vice and depravity. We get the measure of him when he finds a mouse in a trap and grinds his shoe into the animal's body.

In a creepily ominous scene, Gabriel meets his brother's pregnant wife (Eva Birthistle) and feels her stomach, letting his hand linger there.The minister's congregation has no idea of quite how serious he is when, in his first sermon, he says, "I'm going to be hard on you, and hard on myself." Spouting fire and brimstone, Gabriel is the personification of fundamentalism, and through him the incisive screenplay by Darragh Carville implicitly anticipates the intolerance that will boil over in this part of Ireland in years to come.

The scariest aspect of Gabriel is that he absolutely believes that everything he does is right, that it is part of his divine mission on earth, and in that respect the film taps into the universality of conflicts rooted in religious zealotry.

Director Kirk applies an appropriate, darkly muted colour scheme to this grimly bleak environment, establishing an eerie, pressure-cooker atmosphere that recalls Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs.Last seen as Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, Macfadyen immerses himself in the role of Gabriel with a chilling conviction. The uniformly fine performances notably include Birthistle's feisty portrayal of the only person with the temerity to stand up to his character in this calculatedly unsettling psychodrama.

 

Mirror Online Comments on "Secret Life"

Thanks to perfectlymatte of MMOnline for this find!
3 November 2006

BLEAK House favourite Phil Davis and former Spooks star Matthew Macfadyen are to play paedophiles in a controversial new Channel 4 film.

The pair have signed up to appear in Secret Life, which is certain to cause a stir because it focuses on the difficulties faced by sex offenders as they struggle not to give in to their vile urges.

Macfadyen - who has just become a father for the second time with his actress wife Keeley Hawes - plays Charlie, who was molested himself as a child and later jailed for preying on underage girls.

RTE.ie Entertainment Middletown Review : "Terminator with a Collar" ( Nov 2006)

Eva Birthistle
An unusual film
 
2 November 2006
Middletown 2 star 15A


Director: Brian Kirk
Starring: Matthew Macfadyen, Daniel Mays, Eva Birthistle and Gerard McSorley.
Duration: 89 minutes

The idea of an Irish western sounds a bit odd but think about it a little and there have been a number of films which have used elements of the horse opera - 'I Went Down', 'Into the West' and 'Mickybo and Me', to name three. 'Middletown', too, can join that list, and is by far the most unusual of the lot.

Returning home from the missions to the one-horse Middletown, Preacher Gabriel (Macfadyen) isn't looking at his new posting as an easy life and a chance to reconnect with his ailing father Bill (McSorley) and hustler brother Jim (Mays). Instead, he thinks the locals and his family have all travelled some distance down the path of the damned and need to be saved from themselves and each other.

The welcome home meal is barely over before Gabriel launches into his crusade - terrorising his flock for having a drink on Sunday, amplifying the fear of death and need to make amends in his own father, driving an even greater wedge between himself and Jim and deciding that Jim's pregnant barmaid wife Caroline (Birthistle) is the greatest sinner of them all. It's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

Award-winning director McKirk and playwright Daragh McCarville do many things right here, in particular capturing the suffocating nature of small town life on the island of Ireland in the 1950/60s - seen here from a non-Catholic perspective. The acting is strong and the film's look is superb, but 'Middletown' is a film which would have had greater impact if it didn't try to be so powerful all the time.

The biggest problem with the film is the character of Gabriel. As both villain and victim of the story he needed to be made human; instead he often comes across as The Terminator with a collar. Macfadyen is chilling in the role but he should have been given more to work with because with a few chinks in the armour Gabriel would have been more compelling. We also never learn why Gabriel is so unhinged and while some would argue as to whether that's really necessary, for others it further strengthens the belief of a complex character reduced towards the one dimensional.

Kirk and McCarville also needed to rethink the film's closing stages. Here subtlety and things left unsaid would have worked best but instead the duo opt for a big ending and the thriller conventions they employ are far from convincing. In their bid to ramp up the tension, 'Middletown' becomes less not more interesting and the final standoff feels like it belongs in a different film - one with less going for it than this one.

A thought-provoking work, but far from the must see it had the potential to be.

Harry Guerin

Variety: First Look Death at a Funeral

First Looks

From: Variety | Date: October 30, 2006

Variety

A mix of pics showing footage or unspooling in their entirety for the first time during the 2006 American Film Market:

DEATH AT A FUNERAL: Comedy, about a dysfunctional British family gathered to mourn the passing of their patriarch, toplines Matthew Macfadyen, Peter Dinklage, Ewen Bremner and Rupert Graves.

Pic shot in and around London this summer under the helm of Frank Oz ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels"). Bows Stateside through MGM. A three-minute promo reel will be shown. (Sales: Kimmel Intl.)

Belfast Telegraph Another Middletown Review (Nov 2006)

No better than fair to Middling
Middletown tries hard but, as Noel McAdam finds out, is as downbeat and dreary as the grey steeples of Ulster

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