Middletown Reviews

Middletown Times Review (Mar 2007)

From The Times

March 01, 2007


James Christopher

Middletown 15, 85 mins

starstarstarno starno star

The fire and brimstone preacher played by Matthew Macfadyen in Middletown makes Peter Fonda’s trench-coated Devil seem the picture of civility. A great cast turns this small Protestant parish in the 1960s into an unbearable place to live. Jim (Daniel Mays) and his pregnant wife (Eva Birthistle) are scraping by with what she earns as a barmaid, and whatever cheap diesel he can buy to feed his petrol pumps. Entertainment is fitfully supplied by illegal cockfights and lock-ins on the Sabbath.

The return of Jim’s older brother to Northern Ireland is a profound shock. Gabriel left as a boy to pursue a religious vocation preordained for him by his father. He returns a seasoned Paisleyite minister with a zeal that tears his family and parish apart. Gabriel sees iniquity and vice in the most rudimentary compromises. When a glass of beer is thrown in his face he goes back to the manse and scrubs himself with a metal scouring brush.

Brian Kirk’s film is almost too black and white for awkward questions. Maybe that’s as it should be. Macfadyen is quite insane. But Mays — one of my favourite British actors — is terrific as the beleaguered younger brother left to rot by his father and ostracised by his friends. His crumpled face and crushed expectations are the whole point of the sermon, bleak though it is.

Middletown Channel 4 Review (Mar 2007)


by Jamie Russell

Channel 4
Our rating: 2.0
2 star
Avg user rating: 4 (1 votes)
4 star



Matthew MacFadyen, Daniel Mays, Eva Birthistle, Gerard McSorley

Directed by

Brian Kirk

85 minutes, UK/Ireland (2006), 15

Matthew MacFadyen bashes his Bible in this gloomy tale of religious mania

In an era when religious fundamentalism is dominating the headlines, there's something very timely about Middletown, the story of a deranged minister in Northern Ireland who turns himself into the Lord's avenging angel.

Fired up with religious zeal and indoctrinated with a clear view of the world in Manichean terms of good and evil, Gabriel (MacFadyen) could be a metaphor for religious extremism - of all shapes and faiths - in the twenty-first century.

Set in the godforsaken village of Middletown, somewhere in the Ulster Bible belt in the 1960s, director Brian Kirk's film is a low-key piece of cinematic Gothic, full of psychosis, miserablism and self-harming protestations of faith.

MacFadyen smoulders in the lead role, playing a recently ordained minister who returns from missionary work in Africa to his home village and discovers a hotbed of sin and damnation. The villagers' crime? Cockfighting and Guinness-supping on the Sabbath! That's enough to prompt Gabriel into a frenzy of religious extremism as he turns his congregation against the local pub run by his heavily-pregnant sister-in-law (Birthistle) and alienates his brother (Mays) and father (McSorley) over their heathen ways.

MacFadyen's performance is the centrepiece of Middletown and he delivers with gusto, throwing himself into a terrifying performance full of psychotic quirks. Whether killing rodents in the church or "cleansing" himself with steel wool, the Pride And Prejudice star proves remarkably unsettling, banishing the spirit of Mr Darcy once and for all.

Kirk and writer Daragh Carville serve him well, giving the movie an out-of-time, mythic setting that's very atmospheric. Kirk's camera plays up the dead-end claustrophobia of the village and the results are resolutely grim: rain, flock wallpaper and dank poverty signalling a vision of rural misery that taps into the western genre; Ulster's answer to Pale Rider perhaps.

Yet, as Gabriel's religious mania evolves into outright insanity, the film becomes uncertain about where it's heading and increasingly feels like a television drama. MacFadyen's performance is boxed in by the screenplay's limited scope. There's little sense of development to his character (he's patently psychotic rather than misguided) and those looking for insight into religious mania will be left disappointed.

Straddling melodrama and Gothic horror, Middletown never works out which it's trying to be and eventually becomes less about religion and more about a rather forgettable kind of ordinary madness.

A dank, dark Gothic melodrama with a strong performance from MacFadyen, Middletown toys with ideas of religious fundamentalism without really developing its theme.

Sins of a Preacherman (Mar 2007)


Evening Standard rating Derek Malcolm's rating
Evening Standard rating Reader rating


The sins of a preacherman

By Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard 01.03.07


Unhinged: Matthew Macfadyen stars in Middletown

Set in what is presumably a Northern Irish town in the Eighties, Brian Kirk's film has Matthew Macfadyen as a fundamentalist Protestant preacher who arrives in Middletown to rid it of evil - and there is quite a lot of it about.

Nothing good is going to come of the preacher's dotty rantings but somehow he manages to get the townspeople on his side against his own brother. This seems unlikely, as he is clearly unhinged.

So what we eventually get is pure melodrama that favours chasing the style of gothic thrillers over making dramatic sense. Which is a pity, since the cast (including Eva Birthistle and Sorcha Cusack) is able and the cinematography appropriately menacing.

Scotsman Review of Middletown (Feb 2007)

Sun 25 Feb 2007

Middletown (15)


Running time: 89 minutes

RELIGIOUS fundamentalism is a blight on the soul of humanity. The sense of oppression, bigotry and hatred unleashed by tribal loyalties should be the stuff of great cinema. Peter Mullan showed how it could be done in The Magdalene Sisters. His film vividly evoked how the icy grip of the church led extraordinary injustices to go unchallenged and ignored. Nobody wants to rock the boat when a whole society colludes in setting the moral agenda.

Middletown: Empire Review (2006)

Reviewer: Helen OHara * * *

When he returns home to his Irish village, the recently ordained Gabriel finds that his new found religious zeal is not as compatible with family cohesion as he might have wished.

Empire Review
Matthew Macfadyen leaves Mr. Darcy far behind to play a repressed zealot in rural Ireland in the 1960s. Centring on the return home of the newly ordained Gabriel (Macfadyen), this drama pits fanaticism against family when the new minister tries to impose his own rigid morality on his father (McSorley), brother (Mays) and sister-in-law (Birthistle).

It’s interesting to see a film about religion in Ireland that doesn’t also feature terrorism or sectarianism, and Macfadyen injects depth as well as brimstone into his character. But while it’s beautifully shot in blues and greys, it feels a little too theatrical to ever quite fill the big screen.

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