Beyond The Fire


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Beyond The Fire
"This film might have worked better if it hadn't taken on quite as much."

The Catholic Church has come in for quite a tough time in the cinema in recent years, with the big media fuss over The Da Vinci Code nothing to the quiet anger of films like The Magdalene Sisters, Bad Education, Doubt, and Song For A Raggy Boy. Here we are again with Beyond The Fire, with one man's story speaking for thousands of people now adult and struggling to come to terms with troubled pasts.

Scot Williams is Sheamy, a man just out of prison, hopping the boat across to Liverpool in search of work and the priest, Father Brendan, who has supported him in the past. Through a distant relative whose band he goes to see there he meets Katie (Cara Seymour), and the two cautiously form a relationship. Katie has been raped and is trying to get her life back together without men interfering all the time trying to offer sympathy and protection. She's not a stereotypical victim and she still very much enjoys sex, but that's where Sheamy finds things more difficult, his former life as a priest having done little to prepare him for encounters with passionate young women. What's more, there are darker things in Sheamy's past which he's only just beginning to acknowledge, and he's given to outbursts of emotion which may yet threaten both their fragile romance and his freedom.

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It's hard to criticise a film which is this well intentioned and which works this hard to challenge familiar narratives, but there are a lot of problems with Beyond The Fire, not least that similar issues have been handled better elsewhere. The rape narrative works very well, with Seymour very natural and convincing, presenting a complicated person whose greatest frustration is that everybody wants to reduce her life to one incident. This immediately raises questions about the simplistic ways we think of other issues, such as the various abuses known to have gone on within the church, but here the handling is rather more pat, with the implication that one way of looking at them has to be all right and the other all wrong. There's also a subplot relating to forgiveness and redemption leading to an unlikely, sentimental ending which does no justice to the complexity of character we've seen so far.

The film's low budget is also a source of problems: the sound quality is sometimes poor and the lighting not sophisticated enough for low-light scenes to work - we end up simply not being able to tell what's going on. There's also a lot of awkward editing (suggesting a shortage of back-up footage) which results in scenes looking choppy and stilted. Sometimes this works in the film's favour, as it contributes to our identification with Sheamy's troubled emotional state, but in other places it's an unfortunate distraction. Throughout, these problems interfere with the mood of the piece, making it hard to focus on the romance between the two characters which is so important to Sheamy's journey.

Overall, the feeling one gets from Beyond The Fire is that the story was built around the issues and too many compromises were made to make it fit - it might have worked better if it hadn't taken on quite as much. Nevertheless, it does say a few things which haven't been said enough and in places the writing is very effective. Whilst it's not at the top of the list, it's a worthwhile film to watch if you're interested in this kind of subject.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2009
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Beyond The Fire packshot
A survivor of rape begins a tentative relationship with a former priest, only to discover that he has a troubled past of his own.

Director: Maeve Murphy

Writer: Maeve Murphy

Starring: Scot Williams, Cara Seymour, Hugh Sachs, Chris O'Neill

Year: 2009

Runtime: 77 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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