Sister of mercy?
Watching her play God-fearing nun Sister Aloysius Beauvier, you would be forgiven for thinking that Meryl Streep had simply chosen the role that was the furthest removed from her colourful, energetic turn in Mamma Mia! (And who could blame her for wanting to shake off that mantel as quickly as possible.) But, whatever her reasons for choosing Doubt Streep is, as ever, one of its highlights.
It’s 1964, and St Nicholas is one of the strictest Catholic schools in New York’s Bronx neighbourhood. Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is trying to inject a more relaxed way of life into the institution, something Sister Beauvier is aghast to see. Desperate to fight against the change she sees not just in her school but in the world at large, Beauvier makes it her mission to bring down Father Flynn – at whatever cost to him and, ultimately, herself.
Streep and Seymour Hoffman are two of the finest actors working today, and so any film in which they share screen time is undoubtedly an instant must see. Amy Adams is also fantastic as the prime, naïve young Sister James, who finds herself unwittingly at the centre of the conflict in the school. But writer/director John Patrick Shanley, who adapted this from his own play, doesn’t rest on the laurels of his perfect casting; his script and direction draw out personal and religious tensions to great dramatic effect. The muted, shadowy pallet speaks evocatively to the iron-clad way in which Sister Beauvier runs the school and the horrifying acts of which she is accusing Father Flynn. And Streep’s intense, coiled performance fits perfectly within this atmosphere.
It all draws the audience deep into what is, essentially, a moral maze; it speaks to the strength of Shanley’s writing and the talents of his chosen actors that we can never be sure exactly where right and wrong may lie – although by the film’s closing moments it may be more clear. And that is the power of Doubt, the way in which it handles that emotion that not only inflicts its characters but was also starting to be felt across the USA during the 1960s, a country struggling to come to terms with the assassination of Kennedy and the conflict in Vietnam. This same emotion also taints its audience, forcing you to think without being preachy or argumentative. Doubt is simply, engrossingly thought-provoking and, despite its subdued appearance, is one of the brightest films of the year. 5 stars
Five featurettes, plus a commentary from John Patrick Shanley.
Stars Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Director John Patrick Shanley
Distributor Walt Disney
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Released July 6