Meryl Streep as the unforgiving Sister Aloysius

“DOUBT can be as powerful and sustaining as certainty” are the closing words of a Catholic priest’s brief yet hard-hitting sermon in  Doubt, my latest lovefilm.com rental DVD, and set to become one of my favourite films of all time. Father Flynn, a progressive and intelligent older priest, faces a formidable and potentially destructive opponent in Sister Aloysius, played with steely force by Meryl Streep.

Father Flynn’s sermon – on the nature of doubt as a potentially unifying force – brings wide-eyed admiration from one of the altar boys (Donald Miller, the first black boy to enter the Catholic school in the Bronx, New York) but gives Sister Aloysius, the strict disciplinarian principal of the school, food for thought – and deep suspicion. Did it speak, she wonders aloud to her fellow nuns over dinner, of a man facing a crisis of personal faith?

Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

She asks the nuns to keep an eye open for signs of unusual behaviour in Flynn, and it’s not long before the young Sister James (played by the wonderful Amy Adams, Streep’s counterpart in Julie and Julia – another of my all-time favourites) gives her the ‘evidence’ she’s looking for.

As the blurb says: “There is no evidence. There are no witnesses. But for one, there is no doubt.” Convinced he is abusing the young and impressionable Donald, Sister Aloysius first confronts Flynn and then pursues him relentlessly, brooking no arguments and deaf to his protestations of innocence.

There’s a wonderful line when Sister James, ultimately believing Flynn to be innocent of the charges, accuses the older nun of loathing him because he “writes with a ballpoint pen, takes three sugars in his tea, and likes Frosty the Snowman” – a secular song he has wanted to include in the school’s Christmas pageant, but which Sister Aloysius condemns as having “dark undertones.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn) and Amy Adams (Sister James)

The film explores in a fine and multi-layered narrative, issues of exploitation, both  sexual and emotional, faith, morality, authority, homosexuality, compassion and human frailty.

It was released in 2008, and written and directed by John Patrick Shanley from his own stage play, Doubt: A Parable.

Meryl Streep, withViola Davis (Mrs Miller)

The last scene is as fine an ending as I’ve seen. It’s such a good film I can hardly bear to part with it and consider buying it online from lovefilm.com. But first I read the reviews. It scores highly with the critics, then:”Without doubt (excuse the pun) this is the most boring film I’ve ever seen in my life,” writes one less than enthusiastic reviewer. I console myself with the fact that his favourite of all time was Avatar. Oh well, it takes all sorts.

For reviews, synopsis and trailers go to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0918927/

Better still – watch it. It’s brilliant.


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