Monday, 16 April 2012


Absolution is an intriguing film from the 60s, with a screenplay by that fascinating and varied writer Anthony Shaffer. It stars Richard Burton, as well as Dai Bradley (best known as the boy in Kes) and Dominic Guard. Billy Connolly, of all people, also makes an appearance.

In his entertaining memoir So What Did You Expect?, Shaffer describes it as “a twisted tale of the torture of a priest” involving the use of the confessional. It’s an odd story, in a number of ways, and this may be because, as Shaffer says, the film was “calamitously directed by Anthony Page". Certainly, the story, for all its interest, isn't in the same league as Sleuth.

Shaffer’s witty if brutal outline of the experience is memorable: “It was bad enough having a drunk for a leading man, let alone a director who was too much of a wimp...” He explains how, while the film was being made, he realised that a change needed to be made to the story-line, but Page rejected it. He says he learned that “not all thrillers are whodunits to be revealed at the very end.” Whether his comments about Page are fair or not, I don't know. I'd guess his book had the libel lawyers in thoughtful mood...

I tend to agree with Shaffer that the change he proposed would have improved the film. I’m not sure, though, that it would have turned it into a really fine movie. To my mind it is a curiosity, its bleakness a strength but also a shortcoming, and I suspect it’s one of those stories that seemed stronger in theory than in execution. All the same, I’m glad I watched it, because even though it does not match Shaffer’s best work, it benefits from his original way of looking at the world, even more than from his remarkable facility with plot.

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