Tom Conti and Helen Mirren are a match made in heaven, but sadly even their considerable talents and undoubted on-screen chemistry are insufficient to elevate Heavenly Pursuits, a whimsical comedy with feet of clay.
Conti and Helen Mirren are a match made in heaven, but sadly even their
considerable talents and undoubted on-screen chemistry are insufficient to
elevate Heavenly Pursuits, a whimsical comedy with feet of clay. The debut of Ewen Bremner
as remedial kid Stevie Deans adds only a little curiosity value to this film
set in Glasgow.
Conti plays Vic Mathews who teaches
remedial children at the Blessed Edith Semple School. A campaign to canonize
the late Edith is underway, but the Vatican rejects the case, saying a further
two miracles are required. Mathews regards the matter as a total diversion from
his priority of helping pupils, and he is openly contemptuous of his
colleagues. Suddenly, however, miracles seem to be happening to him. Could it
be that he is a special one?
Heavenly Pursuits functions on two levels,
as a satire on the “miracle business” and the attitudes of the Catholic
establishment, and as a romantic comedy. The satire is pitched at such a mild
level, however, that if you blink you will probably miss it, not helped by the
fact that the upholders of belief – such as Father Cobb (Brian Pettifer), Sister (Jennifer
Black) and Headmaster (Dave Anderson)
– are such underwritten supporting characters, thus injecting zero levels of
What we are left with is the romance of the
two stars as they are effectively left to carry the film on their shoulders. That
they are capable of this there is no doubt. Conti delivers a performance of deceptively
lackadaisical, chuckling charm. Mirren’s unaffected sexiness simmers beneath
her withering rebuffs of his chat-up efforts, but the transformation from
scorner to lover is too facile, so even that element of interest is soon doused.
Heavenly Pursuits was part-funded by
Channel Four and it has a kind of made-for TV absence of visual panache. In the
mid 80s, Channel Four could be credited with offering a helping hand to British
cinema at the time when successive Tory Governments were stripping the industry
of state funding. While some good, imaginative films emerged from this period
of television sponsorship, Heavenly Pursuits cannot be counted among them. Its writer/director
Charles Gormley had worked with Bill Forsyth, and was possibly
influenced by gentle Scottish comedies from earlier in the decade such as Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. However, while these were small films, they were made
with an imaginative flair largely absent here. One for fans of Conti and Mirren
– of whom, of course, there are plenty – only.