This film is about a power struggle between a sharp, conservative nun and a charismatic, progressive priest with a Catholic School serving as their battleground. It's a worthy film based on the successful play by John Patrick Shanley and thanks to some wonderful performances and a great script it makes for engrossing viewing

Meryl Streep in Doubt

Doubt is set in the Bronx at the St. Nicolas School where Sister Aloysius Beauvier is the resident dragon lady, resisting change wherever she sees it and upholding her vows with an almost cruel vigour. She soon butts heads with the new priest, Father Brendan Flynn because he is controversially progressive, espousing an inclusive and welcoming faith. This interesting clash of wills turns extremely nasty when the terribly naive Sister James reports that Father Flynn has taken a suspicious interest in one of his charges. To complicate matters further the boy in question is the school's first black student.

The play had an extended run on Broadway and Shanley has successfully adapted it for the screen. He also takes on the task of directing the film and manages to bring his vision to life beautifully. It's a New York autumn in 1964 and the setting and details are all thoroughly convincing which is in no small part due to some wonderful acting. Meryl Streep is great as the sharp, quick witted Sister Aloysius and her performance has earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also excellent as Father Flynn and he has earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination. In fact the film has been nominated for five Oscars in all with Best Supporting Actress nominations for Amy Adams who plays Sister James and Viola Davis who plays the boy's mother as well.

As soon as Sister Aloysius hears that Father Flynn met with the boy in private she is blindly convinced that he is guilty of wrongdoing and she wastes no time in attacking him. Flynn is tougher to work out, he seems like a classic nice guy and Hoffman plays the part perfectly, making him sympathetic and plausible. Did he do it or didn't he? This question provides the doubt but the film also has time to explore some issues of change within the church and indeed the nature of faith itself.

The surface story is an unpleasant one and some of the conversations that arise are really quite depressing. The supporting cast are capable but there isn't much to justify their praise, the scenes which really caught my attention were the ones that featured Hoffman and Streep. Their argument is fascinating and it really brings the film to life. Some of the dialogue is very sharp and as you might expect from a long running play, polished and effective. Doubt is a subtle and entertaining piece of work and having written it off as another "worthy" movie it definitely surpassed my expectations.

Reviewed by Simon Hill

Return to Top