Middletown:review by Phil Crossey (2006)

MIDDLETOWN REVIEWED
Chilling example of how religion and violence clash

BY PHIL CROSSEY
p.crossey©newsletter.co.uk


MIDDLETOWN, a new Northern Irish film that is effectively a showcase for local talent, makes uncomfortable viewing at times.

Not necessarily in a bad way, it is a compelling drama with plenty of deft touches, but this is an unflinching look at our society.

Set in the 1960s, it doesn't use the Troubles as a narrative device, moreover it shows mindsets and the seething-sense of anger and alienation that would lead to conflict.

But this is a chilling drama about violence and religion, and how both can destroy lives.

The film begins with Gabriel Hunter as a young boy being told that he is to be sent to the seminary.

The scene, deliberately, has the feel of a courtroom sentencing.

Outside, his younger brother Jim gets into a fight.

Years later, having trained as a minister and returned to his home town, Gabriel (Matthew Macfadyen) is determined to restore order in the midst of what he sees as sin.

With gambling and drinking rife, Gabriel goes about trying to bring Middle town back to God, a quest that puts him on a collision course with his own family. Jim (Daniel Mays) is now married to pub landlady Caroline (Eva Birthistle) and they are expecting a child.

He work in the failing family business with the head of the family, BillHunter (Gerard McSorley).

With the bar opening on Sundays, and the business selling illegal diesel, Gabriel's mission to clean up the town begins with those closest to him.

All of this happens against a permanently cold, damp backdrop and the muddy streets of the town itself provide such a tactile and effective background that Middletown itself is almost the film's main character.

Middletown is a very literal work, which isloaded with imagery. It follows in the tradition of great dramas where lack of communication and empathy create the tension.

Everyone from Northern Ireland will recognise the setting and the characters, who are wining to criticise their neighbour before they see their own faults.

The characters look for salvation in all the wrong places and the lack of forgiveness leads to an explosive conclusion.

On the face of it, this neo-western-cum-family drama is an examination of the effect of religion on people's lives.

But there are also strong overtones of how fundamentalism, and the lack of empathy it brings, canbeanincredibly destructive force.

While the story deals with Protestantism, and Middletown is very close to the Gaelic name for Ballymena, there is enough ambiguity not to identify any single faith and the message is universal.

This is a lavish film that is beautifully shot and bubbles with simmering tension all the way through. The plot may jar at times, and lurch toward unbelievably at the end, but this is a parable as much as a narrative story.

The performances are outstanding from a recognisable cast, who capture perfectly the traits of hiding behind themselves, or behind a twisted set of values.

It is by no means an easy work, but it sums up the Northern Ireland condition better than any big screen effort and for that it deserves to be seen.

Rating: - 4 stars out of 5

Middletown: Interview by Crossey (Nov 2006)

Middletown: a place we have all been to
BY PHIL CROSSEY
p.crossey@newsletter. co.uk

ULSTER life in the 1960s, religious fundamentalism and a family tearing itself ap art. Perhaps unlikely subjects for a feature film which has been called the best Irish movie, northern or southern, to be made in recent years.

But Middletown is an insightful, and now critically-acclaimed, look at the Northern Irish condition with touches of gothic horror and melodrama. Written by Daragh Carville and directed by Brian Kirk, both from Armagh, it features Pride and Prejudice star and Matthew Macfadyen in the title role along with acast of notable actors. The plot centres around the Hunter family, and the dank, dreary backdrop of Middletown.

Gabriel (Matthew Macfadyen) is told at an early age that he has been "chosen by God" and is sent off to train as a minister. He returns home to Middletown many years later to find that drinking and gambling are rife, and that his brother, Jim, is haplessly caught up in the shenanigans.

Jim (Daniel Mays) is married to Caroline (Eva Birthistle), who works in the local bar and rejects Gabriel's attempts to bring thepair back to religion. The penniless couple are expecting their first child, struggling to build their own home and trying to survive in a world were money, rather than spiritual guidance, is what they need.

Meanwhile, Jim and Gabriel's father Bill (Gerald McSorley) is attempting torun the family's failing business while he battles with ill health and an impending sense of his mortality, Middletown is about the new minister's battle with sin and how he must face his own family on the front line. "It felt like a western," Matthew Macfadyen said.

Kimmel does brisk sale of Death at a Funeral at AFM

An excerpt from a Hollywood Reporter Article discussing the American Film Market and Death at a Funeral:

Departing AFM leaves foamless wake

by Stuart Kemp

November 8, 2006

Kimmel International president Mark Lindsay thinks the market is "always tough now" but pointed to the fact that, if sellers have good movies with U.S. distribution in place, buyers will snap up titles.

"It ain't easy, but if you have good films, you will sell out here," Lindsay said. His company practically sold out their slate, reporting strong territory sales led by big demand for the Frank Oz-directed comedy "Death at a Funeral."

Middletown Release in UK Unknown!

6point7 reports that Verve Pictures (the distributors of Middletown in the UK) have pulled the November 24th release date, there. Apparently they wish to pitch the movie at a less busy time of the year.

Middletown: John Maguires Movie Review (2006)

Repent in Dust and Ashes

by John Maguire


There is a lot to admire in Brian Kirk’s gloomy Northern Irish gothic Middletown, the story of a squat, fogbound village, marooned in what might be the 1960s, visited by an avenging angel. Fifteen years before, young Gabriel Hunter (Tyrone McKenna) is told he has been called by God for a higher purpose in life. After a spell on the African Missions, Gabriel, now played by Matthew MacFadyen, comes back to Middletown to take over the local church, with his father Bill (Gerard McSorley), brother Jim (Daniel Mays) and his wife Caroline (Eva Birthistle) waiting at a dinner in his honour.

It doesn’t take long for the zealous young minister – the film doesn’t specify a denomination - to discover that things in town have changed in his absence. The people have neglected the church and taken to drinking, gambling and cockfighting, mostly in the local pub, run by the heavily-pregnant, turquoise mini-skirted Caroline. With a name derived from the archangel of God and a nod to Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter, Gabriel wastes no time in explaining to his congregation that they are hypocrites and sinners who must change their ways or face damnation. Bible-thumper or not, he’s right. Middletown is a nasty place, sharp-tongued and violent, peopled with sleeveens and ignoramuses that, for the most part, deserve what’s coming to them.

Director Kirk builds an atmosphere of steeply arched gothic, angling his camera from the rafters of the pokey church or shadowed under the low lintel of the pub door. There is an insistent sense of physical discomfort throughout the film; from the mildewed, cramped interiors to the itch of the wet woollen costumes and the straight backs demanded by hard wooden pews. There is no succour for the infirm either; corrective eye-patches, crutches and unchecked aches and twinges go to remind the parishioners that their deliverance will not come from science.

Daragh Carville’s screenplay begins as a drama about the chasm that exists between the ideals of a fundamentalist church and the reality of life as people live it, but ultimately wanders back to more familiar genre territory. Without some element of a personal history or any sense of humanity (even a simple mark like the ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ etched on Robert Mitchum’s lumpy knuckles), Gabriel’s mission loses its spiritual dimension and becomes a procedural psychotic rampage. There are hints at a greater darkness, like a scene where the minister furiously scrubs his bare chest with wire-wool, but this territory isn’t explored in detail. There’s no mistaking Macfadyen’s blank-eyed conviction, whatever its source, but in the clunky melodramas that follow, he is a one-dimensional zealot, a stiff, lifeless cipher.

Better is Daniel Mays performance as the craven second-born son Jim, who can’t afford to get his house built and is smuggling diesel for spare cash. A graduate of the reflexive, freewheeling films of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, Mays has a mobile face, quick and expressive. Eva Birthistle gives another rich performance as the independent, quick-to-anger Caroline, a woman who fights for her rights to make her own decisions but allows the men of the village to hold weekly cockfights in her cellar to sell more beer. Of the rest of the cast, Richard Dormer as Skinner, a grotesque butcher and Sorcha Cusack as Caroline’s protective mother give sturdy support. A mournful Mick Lally as the retiring former minister drops out understandably early but Bronagh Gallagher is lost in the background of a handful of crowd scenes, an oddly silent, anonymous presence.

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