In 1964 at St. Nicholas in the Bronx, Father Brendan Flynn (by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the parish priest who sees the need to change the strict practices of his school. These have been the realm of the School Principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (by Meryl Streep) who runs her school with an iron fist. Sister Aloysius believes that fear and discipline are the two key ingredients to successfully educating children. However, her fellow teacher, Sister James (by Amy Adams), is far more kind hearted and she exudes love for teaching and for the students in her charge.
These are changing political times and the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller (by Joseph Foster). One day, Donald is called to see Father Flynn and when he returns to his class Sister James feels there is something unusual about his behaviour – and perhaps Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald. As a result, Sister Aloysius decides that Father Flynn has behaved inappropriately towards the boy – particularly as his explanation is unsatisfactory. Although there is no evidence of impropriety, Sister Aloysius mounts a crusade against him, which involves Donald’s mother and the broader community. Sister Aloysius is determined to pursue Father Flynn and ensure that justice is done.
This movie is brave – it explores the difficult and controversial issues of religion, racial equality, child abuse, community culture, suspicion and presumption of innocence. I am not familiar with the detail of the political isses relating to the Catholic Church at this time, but the movie evidences a lot of change and upheaval between “old school” and “new wave” practicing Catholics. The performances of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams are all very good indeed. Viola Davis is marvellous and very realistic as the anguished Mrs Miller.
This is a good movie – but it doesn’t go where I expected it to. Well done.
Made: 2008. Directed by John Patrick Shanley