Films and TV programmes, when dealing with religious themes often go for the cultish, extreme or even twisted versions of Faith, but on good days it’s just the pleasantly offbeat.
Last Saturday night’s film on BBC2 was all of the above. Stations of the Cross is a German film, serious, well made, but not easy viewing.
It told the story of a teenage girl receiving Confirmation preparation from a traditionalist Catholic group who reject the Pope and Vatican II. I found it absorbing, disturbing, sad and challenging.
The traditional stations are compared to a series of 14 key events in the girl’s life over a short period. I think militant atheists will be confirmed in their distaste for religion, traditionalists will be displeased about the way they are portrayed and more mainstream people of faith will be uneasy (especially with a Communion scene) but also glad that their outlook is reflected in one of the most sympathetic characters, a French au pair named Bernadette.
Apart from confronting the difficulties of being a traditionalist religious teen in a secular society it’s also about the idealism and naiveté of youth and how it must be carefully nurtured, and neither exploited nor crushed.
With so much ugly gun violence of late, the film Amish Grace (TG 4, Thursday) was timely, exploring the theme of forgiveness and is based on a school shooting in the Amish community – it was noteworthy at the time because of how quickly that community offered forgiveness and engaged with the family of the shooter.
This dramatisation is wooden at times, and in the efforts to avoid it being too upsetting the shooting is treated so obliquely that it’s hard to know for a while what exactly has happened.
Tammy Blanchard (also seen to great effect in the pro-life film Bella) gives a fine performance as the shooter’s distraught wife and deftly captures the gamut of emotions she experiences.
Kimberly Williams-Paisley does pretty well as the fictional mother of one victim – unsurprisingly she has difficulty in being so forgiving and her inner turmoil gives rise to much of the dramatic conflict.
Media characters give something of an outside perspective, reflective of how difficult it is for some to understand the Amish commitment to forgiveness in the face of such tragedy. The problematic issue of ‘shunning’ – where the community shuns those of their own who have offended against it – is also explored.
Also with a strong message of forgiveness, it was good to see Life and Soul back again last Sunday morning (RTÉ1, RTE Radio 1 Extra and Long Wave 252) with another impressive programme, marking the 50th anniversary of the start of ‘The Troubles’ and focusing on the impact of those events in the lives of various people.
Bridie McGoldrick’s only son, a Catholic, was shot dead in a sectarian murder – not God’s plan, she said, but man’s plan. Every day, she said, God gives her the grace to forgive.
Fra Sands, Catholic, and Johnny Clements, Protestant, had learned reconciliation and understanding thanks to a Border Walk and Youth With a Mission.
Jason Rutherford now works in the service of young people but as a youngster had been groomed for involvement in a loyalist paramilitary group. He resisted despite risk to himself and was now a passionate believer in the reality of God.
John Ashe was raised Catholic in Antrim, was in a mixed marriage and now attended a non-denominational church, avoiding religion, he said, to have a better relationship with Christ – that begs more than a few questions but that’s for another time.
David Williamson had a story both heart-breaking and uplifting – in his days as an RUC officer he was motivated by service but suffered severe injuries in a bomb attack.
Having recovered he was later involved in a car crash that killed his wife and daughter and left him and another daughter with severe injuries. Yet again he recovered against the odds, miraculously he believes.
Finally, Carl and Linda Whinnery were a couple in a mixed marriage, coming from very different religious backgrounds, learning, creating bridges and serving in youth initiatives.
The music, from the groups Rend Collective and I Am Worship, was top notch, though I would like to see more diversity of musical styles. Dramatic reconstructions have been replaced by short and well-drawn animations, though I think these too are unnecessary – let our imaginations do the work!
Pick of the Week
Keepers of the Flame
RTÉ1, Monday, August 19, 9.35 pm
The universal story of a generation dealing with the consequences of war and civil war, shedding light on Ireland’s post war psyche – on all sides.
Everybody Loves Raymond
Channel 4, Wednesday, August 21, 8.40am
Debra’s hippy sister shows up unexpectedly and announces that she’s decided to become a nun.
Daniel O’Connell: Forgotten King of Ireland
RTÉ1, Thursday, August 22, 9.35pm
Broadcaster Olivia O’Leary journeys from Kerry to Glasnevin to Rome to chronicle the trailblazing life and the contemporary legacy of Daniel O’Connell.