Sunday, 21 February 2010

A Congregation of Ghosts - Glasgow Film Theatre - 20/2/10 (GFF)

"A Congregation of Ghosts" has received a lot of attention as a result of it being the last major work that Edward Woodward completed before his death late last year. A much loved actor who never really realised his potential, certainly on the big screen, he is probably best remembered for his role as Sergeant Howie in the cult horror "The Wicker Man" and as "The Equalizer"on television. That, however, does him a great disservice as he was a very fine actor (the youngest ever graduate from RADA) and one who deserves to be remembered as a "great".

Fortunately director Mark Collicott gave Woodward a role which will stand as a fitting testament to his talents as the real life Reverend Densham who is the central character here. A minister who arrived in the small Cornish town of Warleggan in the 1930s and who almost immediately managed to upset all of his congregation with his piety which ultimately resulted in his preaching to a church filled with cardboard cut outs for nearly thirty years as the members of the community boycotted his services.

Densham appears to have been a man out of time and out of place. He had spent some years in India where he had developed a deep interest in, and affection for, Ghandi, he was a vegetarian and he was also a genuine eccentric of the sort we no longer see. It is perhaps not surprising that his congregation found it difficult to take to him, this, after all, is a small community in the remote Bodmin Moor area of Cornwall and the idea of a minister in a tall, black, stove pipe hat wearing no socks and espousing the ideals of Ghandi must have seemed very peculiar. Add to that the fact that Densham also painted garish murals on the walls of the Church and daubed biblical place names on the doors of the rectory (which remain there to this day) and you have a man who was never likely to be embraced into the bosom of the locals.

The film itself is a beautifully told and lovingly created mixture of real life and ghost story. Collicott mixes the story of Densham with the later story of a young couple who purchase the rectory many years after his death. The husband, Ellis, is planning on writing a novel but soon becomes obsessed with the former minister and even starts to see him in the grounds of the Church. As he falls deeper under the influence of Densham, through old sermons he finds in the home, his marriage falls apart and he is left, like Densham, alone and isolated in the house.

What really makes this film is the performance of Woodward. It is a brilliant piece of screen acting. He is utterly magnetic and totally convincing as the pious, eccentric and yet lovable Densham. He seems almost to be aware that this may well be his final performance and as a result he delivers, to my mind, his finest performance. It is a fitting legacy to a talent who was loved by many.

For Collicott to have delivered such a beautiful, story driven, film and to have directed such a wonderful performance from Woodward, says much about his abilities as a director and I would hope that we see much more from him in the future.

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