Ah, Ilkley. Famous for the Tour de Yorkshire, a toy museum and being a gateway to ‘God’s own country’ – the Dales – it’s now the location for this alternative crime caper. But that’s enough PR for the tourist board, let’s sing the praises of the movie.
Say Your Prayers centres around chalk-and-cheese brothers Tim and Vic (Harry Melling and Tom Brooke, who play perfect foils for one another), who’ve been sent on a mission from God with a difference, by Father Enoch (a solid cameo role for Derek Jacobi). As things take an unexpected turn, a reluctant detective chief inspector is thrown into the unholy mix, courtesy of a brilliant performance from Anna Maxwell Martin.
This all takes place during the weekend of the annual Ilkley Literature Festival, and it’s this coupled with the small-scale setting that lends the film its charm and also means the characters’ trials and tribulations are intertwined that little bit more (the festival does actually exist, by the way).
Speaking of settings, the quaint market town and stunning backdrop do add a certain feel, but Sverre Sørdal‘s awesome cinematography is never allowed to engulf the direction and compromise the action as it unfolds. It’s important that we do get a sense of the landscape, but it rarely steals the limelight and so it’s never shot at the expense of the heart and soul of the piece. This is also thanks in no small measure to some very clever editing.
The script questions and debates religion in its own unique way, and no doubt says a few things that many a filmmaker wishes they’d thought of expressing. The good and bad of Christianity are both very much in evidence, and the writing is at its best when presenting the ugly side, yet still managing to deliver on laughs – no mean feat. Yet, as it conveys dark undertones on the subject so well, you wonder why it feels the need to resort to moments of negative stereotyping, which are a little on the crass side. Thankfully, these moments are few and fleeting, so the story doesn’t get too bogged down in the message it’s trying to convey. Non-believers don’t escape criticism either, which makes for a well-balanced affair as well as subtly touching upon the notion of free-thinking.
So, let’s hear one more hallelujah for Say Your Prayers. It is of course irreverent, but more importantly it’s thought-provoking and keeps you guessing. A genuinely entertaining and original effort, on a shoestring budget.