Daring to shake the confession box, Priest brings the debate about sex and the Roman Catholic Church to the big screen.

Kathleen Morgan speaks to its star, LINUS ROACHE.

Father Greg (Llnus Roache)

t a time when the Catholic Church is being forced to look deep into its own psyche. a movie asking uncomfortable questions about sexuality and the priesthood will inevitably raise eyebrows. When it has come from the imagination of one of Britain’s hottest scriptwriters and involves an emerging star with fire in his belly. those eyebrows are going to hit the ceiling.

Priest has quietly taken the film world by storm since it took its first tentative steps into the public arena at last year's Drambuic Edinburgh Film Festival. Jimmy McGovern‘s story of a gay priest at war with his sexuality and grappling with the soul of inner city Liverpool was originally written as a BBC screenplay. Starring Linus Roache and Robert Carlyle. it was to be another cracker from the writer who gave Robbie Coltrane a television role to die for, as the overweight. oversexed criminal psychiatrist Fitz. It follows McGovern's current television success Hearts And [Wt/HIS.

You can‘t keep a good movie down. and if the BBC was nervous about giving Priest a cinema release. its director Antonia Bird was not. ‘l’m on a one-woman crusade with this film.’ she says. Such was her evangelistic faith in McGovern‘s creation that she shot it as a movie anyway and convinced the BBC to allow a showing at the Drambuic Edinburgh Film Festival. Priest captured the imagination of Festival audiences and went on to win the Michael Powell Award for best British film. lts subsequent impact on the international festival circuit has taken everyone but its makers by surprise.

‘You can always argue whether sex is valid in films and most of the time it’s not. In this case, it’s good to see it and not be ashamed of it.’

Just back from a six-week trip to lndia. Linus Roache is attempting to settle into a stream of press interviews for Priest. Much has happened since he embraced McGovern’s portrayal of Father Greg. an idealistic preacher with a leather jacket and a secret life hanging in his closet. The 31-year-old actor has starred in BBCl’s epic period drama Seafortlz. which had him hovering on the brink of something great and virtually burned him out. His performance as working- class antihero Bob Longman put him firmly on British television’s fast track. earning him a mainstream profile and a level of attention he is not quite comfortable with.

Roache’s thoughts are still somewhere in India, where he briefiy retreated to escape the acting bug and instead contracted a stomach bug. but he has no difficulty remembering why he accepted the central role in Priest. ‘1 had this big kind of: “Yes. yes . . . he says, fists clenched and eyes glittering. ‘I got the script and was immediately excited by it. It was very confrontational, but not gratuitous.’

Decked perfectly in a cream linen shirt. Roache has the kind of gaze film directors dribble over the intense look that turned Lia Williams’s character weak at the knees in Seaforrlr. When he Speaks. all traces of Bob Longman‘s foul-mouthed grittiness disappear. Roache’s courteous. gentle-humouer manner evokes thoughts of a middle-class, private school upbringing.

15 The List 10-23 Mar 1995