In 1991, Patrick Malahide appeared as Rev. Edwin Sorleyson in the Irish film December Bride. We have covered Rev. Sorleyson a bit in the Tale of Three Clergymen post, but he is worth a revisit. Plus, it is a good film, as evidenced by winning a special jury prize at the 1990 European Film Awards.
December Bride: Brief Overview
Sarah Gomartin (Saskia Reeves) and her mother Martha (Brenda Bruce) go to work as servants on the Echlin farm. The farm is ran by patriarch Mr. Echlin (Geoffrey Golden) with his two sons Hamilton (Donal McCann) and Frank (Ciarán Hinds). Sarah forms a bond with the old man and is intrigued by his pretty, little boat. Later, he takes her and his sons across the water to rent a ram. They hit a gale on the way home, capsizing them. Realizing there are too many to hold onto the upturned boat, Mr. Echlin deliberately lets go so that the three younger ones may live.
Sarah and the brothers stop going to church, much to Martha’s and Rev. Sorleyson’s dismay, and embark on a polymory. Sarah has a child, but is not certain which brother is the father. She decides the child is to have her name, so it doesn’t much matter to her. She remains firm, despite consternation from others.
Rev. Sorleyson has a slight clash with Sarah at Mr. Echlin’s funeral. She feels her survival was due to Mr. Echlin’s self-sacrifice. Sorleyson walks in on her, “surely daughter, that is not all, plucked from the deep by the Almighted hand.” Sarah turns away, Sorleyson continues saying God had “taken the ripe and spared the green.”
Sarah says it was Mr. Echlin, “he did the sparing.” It is obvious Sorleyson wants to continue, but Hamilton calmly intervenes by asking Sorleyson to say the prayers.
As he leads the funeral procession, Sorleyson gives Sarah who is standing separate with arms folded from the other women a wary look. He has a feeling she will be trouble.
Sorleyson’s early attempts to bring Sarah and the brothers back to the fold are pleasant enough. He finds Martha and Sarah hanging laundry and comments on how he hasn’t seen them, barring Martha who still attends, in church. He is set to lecture Sarah, “the scripture says…” but she ignores him and walks to a different part of the line.
He turns to Martha and suggests the younger ones are falling by the wayside, but there is nothing Martha can do to make them go. “Well, we must pray,” he says as he touches the brim of his bowler and heads off.
Martha and Sarah have a confrontation. Sarah says the clergy and subservience have never done anything for their family, and she plans to make her own way.
After a church service, Martha is outside and Sorleyson comments that the Echlin boys must return to the fold. “But not my Sarah?” “Ay, Sarah too…of course.” But he doesn’t seem as sincere there. Hurt, angry and ashamed, Martha leaves the Echlin farm to go back to her old cottage. Sarah remains with the brothers.
A Depressed Clergyman
There is an odd scene where Sorleyson is traveling in a pretty red yacht. He hears Sarah and the lads frolicking from the shore. Sheep have got loose, and Sarah is running around in circles trying to retrieve them as the brothers laugh. Sorleyson seems decidedly uncomfortable and looks to the distance while the yachtsman has a slightly amused expression. It seems the villagers know he is vexed by Sarah and the Echlins.
A few months later, Sarah is pregnant, and her mother has just passed away. Sarah goes to the church to put flowers at Martha’s grave. Sorleyson takes the opportunity to confront Sarah about the unborn child, asking which of the two brothers she will marry. Neither. “But, Sarah, your good name….” “What is my name?”
Sorleyson has no answer for that, but he appears embarrassed to see another man staring at them. He must hate to be seen losing control of his flock, even if they are no longer in his flock.
When the Echlins have their potato harvest, it is a bounty of huge, robust potatoes being brought up from the earth. Rev. Sorleyson, assisted by his basket carrying wife Victoria (Francis Lowe), just digs up a few little, new potatoes. Of course, new potatoes taste loads better, especially with a sprig of mint, but that’s not the point here. 🙂
Sorleyson finds his own symbolism by comparing flowers and tidy potatoes to more unruly garden growth, “like goats beside the sheep.” He pauses for a bit and adds, “don’t you think?” It is like he is looking for affirmation, and he finds it his wife because she gazes up at him adoringly, “that’s lovely, Edwin, the people here will understand that.”
Oh! I like that bit. It seems Edwin overreaches with his sermons; at least his wife thinks so. She obviously admires him though. But, Edwin can’t take a compliment properly, “nature is a bad example for simple folk, and I’m not so sure they are that simple.”
It must be said, Patrick Malahide looks very good in the white gardening outfit he has on, especially the slouchy white hat. Actually, the good reverend has a lot of nice outfits, as you can see from the screencaps.
While writing another sermon, Sorleyson decides to try another path. He goes to reason with Hamilton. This means a tramp alongside some sheep, which is really a very pretty moment.
He promises to not take much time, but Hamilton, who is feeding a little lamb, is in no rush and is extremely hospitable. He invites Sorleyson to sit beside him and hands him the lamb as a means of comfort. It is a pretty moment and the lamb, for its part, is happy to sit on Sorleyson’s lap.
Sorleyson brings up the baby’s name, and Hamilton nearly makes his day, “I’ll marry her.” Oh my gosh! Sorleyson looks….delighted! “That is the first sane word I’ve heard on this matter.” Then his bubble is burst. “But, she’ll not marry me, the stubborn hussy.” Sorleyson myopically suggests she marry Frank with an unspoken implication that he is a lousy choice. Nope, not Frank either.
Sorleyson can’t believe the three of them intend to continue so. The lamb can’t believe it either because he chooses that moment to have a little accident on Sorleyson’s leg. To his credit, Sorleyson just cleans up the mess with his hankie. He’s not prissy, that’s for sure.
He warns Hamilton of a stony road, “no church, no Orange Brotherhood.” That doesn’t phase Hamilton in the least because he thinks the three curses of Ireland are the English, religion and drink. Another failure for Rev. Sorleyson.
His Final Try
After another garden sulk, Sorleyson tries his hand a final time. He walks to the farm to tell Sarah that the child must have a surname. She says he has her name. “That is impossible.” Well, it isn’t, but whatever.
“You’ll never feel happy, Sarah; you’ll never be at peace.” “Are you at peace?” The way he stands forlornly twiddling his fingers answers her question. She challenges him, saying the clergy just want “to bend and contrive any matter until it is smooth to the eye, all botched inside but outward smooth to the eye…like lazy work.”
Then I think we get to the crux of his problem: his own lust. He actually makes a grab at Sarah, but pulls his hand back before touching her. It is obvious that he is profoundly and deeply ashamed of himself as he leaves the farm and goes through knee deep water to get out of there.
A Wee, Tidy Town
Sorleyson is back to his plant parables, “traveler’s joy….joy!” He says that part wryly. His wife, who is wearing an apron with some very pretty red-work embroidery, warns him about being getting too advanced for the locals.
He is a bit cagey and starts to tell Victoria something, but then stops, but she forces him to continue since she knows he has been distressed as of late. He tells her that there is a vacancy in Lurgan. “It’s a town, a tidy, wee town.” A tidy, wee town sounds exactly like something Edwin could use now. No more “simple” (or not so simple) folk and their weird ways!
Skip to the End
Fast forward time. Frank gets beat up by a group of men after he flirts with their sister. He is beaten so badly that he is forced onto crutches for the rest of his life with a lame leg. He was preparing to rejoin the community but was rejected.
Sarah, who now has two children, is in a bind. Her daughter, now grown, wants to marry a local boy, but cannot until she has her father’s name. The girl reminds Sarah, who still doesn’t want to marry, about the time Mr. Echlin let go of the boat. It is now Sarah’s turn to let go of her boat so that the young may live, and she does. She marries Hamilton.
And who should officiate the wedding, but Peter Capaldi! He is playing “young Sorleyson”, Edwin’s and Victoria’s son. Unfortunately, he has no lines which is a total shame because I’d have liked to have known how his parents did in Lurgan. He does give an odd look at the two brothers, which suggests to me he knows about them.
A pretty film, the cinematography is gorgeous and at times it looks like it could be a documentary called “Beautiful Ireland”. 🙂 The premise is interesting, yet one wonders what was Sarah hoping to achieve. The Echlin farm prospers despite their unusual method, but in the end she succumbs to conformity by marrying the kind, wise and gentle Hamilton who was clearly the obvious choice. And, what about Frank? He is left nearly crippled from their stubbornness.
Patrick Malahide’s performance is beautiful. I like the voice he uses; it is very soothing and lovely. Edwin himself is a very complex, tangled character. He clearly wants to be a spiritual leader for the community, something I think driven by ego. He is perplexed by any deviation from the norm.
But unable to let it go and focus on the larger community who attends his sermons, he keeps picking at it like a scab. Eventually he picks too much and infection takes over.
In his case, it seems like he is dealing with lust himself which is a pity since it is obvious that Victoria holds him in high regard and loves him very much. Hopefully, he and she found happiness in Lurgan, though I’m not sure they did if young Sorleyson’s expression is anything to go by.