Recent films about killing have, surprisingly, a comic streak to them and sometimes Harry Michell’s Say Your Prayers fits into that mold. What’s different here, to his credit, is its wavy approach within the subgenre. He treats his viewers to a chorus and the picturesque landscapes of Ilkley, England. It’s a small town where a couple walking their dogs are inevitably going to find a dead body. It eventually returns to the two brothers responsible for that violent death, Tim (Harry Melling) and Vic (Tom Brooke).
Tim and Vic killed that man because he looked like Huxley (Roger Allam). He’s a smug celebrity making speeches all over the country praising atheism’s intellectual superiority. Tim and Vic, by the way, are Christians, and feeding their fundamentalist views is the priest, Father Enoch (Derek Jacobi), who adopted them. All of this is a mystery to DCI Brough (Anna Maxwell Martin). She’s a detective with a tough approach even towards Ilkley’s mayor. She wants him to postpone a local festival to solve this first murder and possibly, prevent more killings.
Most viewers have probably watched media with more characters, so in theory, five major characters don’t seem like a tall order. But Michell makes things feel overwhelming since a few of them pop in and out ot complicate each other’s lives. It doesn’t help that Say Your Prayers often forces its characters to resort to extreme volumes. And thoseline deliveries are happening while the film brings back the chorus. Scenes like this make viewers pray for a more constant tone.
There’s not much to most of the characters, who either yell their lines or whisper them. And the intention here understandable specifically with someone like Vic who is both brash and vulnerable. That contradiction isn’t compelling enough in comparison to Tim, who’s having a crisis of faith. And sure, the film doesn’t redeem Brough just in case someone’s going to complain about her being the archetype of the ‘redeemed racist cop’. But it should give her and other characters some complexity.
A character like Huxley is easy to editorialize. Maybe it’s asking for too much for Say Your Prayers to make him less insufferable. Although yes, redeeming someone reminiscent of Christopher Hitchens is an uphill climb. Anyway, Huxley is one of the many moving parts of the film’s denouement that drags. His speech, on paper, lasts a minute, but it feels like a whole hour. And the rest of the last act hangs on a contrivance that’s as silly as the ones before it.
- Rated: NR
- Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller
- Release Date: 4/2/2021
- Directed by: Harry Michell
- Starring: Anna Maxwell Martin, Derek Jacobi, Harry Melling, Roger Allam, Tom Brooke
- Produced by: Helen Simmons
- Written by: Harry Michell, Jamie Fraser
- Studio: Aimimage Productions, Cufflink Productions, Guinea Pig Productions, Independent, Ivy Gate Films