Writer and Director: Harry Michell
This new British comedy begins like a horror film and might have you spilling your microwave popcorn in what must surely be one of the earliest scares in any movie this century. Mildly absurdist, Say Your Prayers follows two inept assassins targeting a controversial atheist author at Ilkley’s Literary Festival in Yorkshire. Harry Michell’s film is never as funny as it wants to be, but it does have a certain quirky charm.
This charm is down largely to its lead star, Harry Melling, who plays Tim, a sensitive soul and an unlikely hitman. He has come with his brother to the Yorkshire town in order to kill the author of God Awful, a new book that seeks to prove that God, no matter your religion, does not exist. His brother is only a little more skilled in Christian Jihadi than he is but Vic is always prepared to get down on his knees and pray. The brothers bumble through their mission mistaking their target and killing an innocent man, but they not troubled by remorse, and step up their plans to find the right man.
It becomes clear that the two boys don’t really have the wherewithal or passion to carry out their assignment and so it comes as no surprise when Derek Jacobi appears as a cunning priest. While all the other characters overplay their eccentricities for comedic effect, Jacobi plays it deadly straight, and plainly is the co-villain in this piece. The other is the author, played by Roger Allam, smug and condescending. Also included in the starry cast is Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays the foul-mouthed and politically incorrect detective trying to stop the murders in her little town. This may not be Maxwell Martin’s best role, as she pushes her character’s grotesqueness to such ludicrous levels that we quickly stop believing in her.
Also foul-mouthed is Vic, Tim’s brother, but Tom Brooke is able to give him a certain fragility and humility, and proof of his abusive childhood exists in his flinches from the priest’s threats. He and his brother, despite their murderous intent, are decent people when compared to the others around them. Their relationship holds this film together.
The numerous appearances of the male choir which provide the soundtrack does begin to grate after a while, but it’s evidence of Michell’s originality and it does help to make this film feel particularly English, and Screen Yorkshire, who helped finance the movie, will undoubtedly be pleased with the result. But rather than Michell’s film, it really belongs to Harry Melling and after appearing as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films this should be a breakout role for him.
Released on demand on 28 September 2020