Michael McDonagh wrote ‘Calvary’ while filming ‘The Guard’ with Brendan Gleeson towards the end of 2009. Almost five years later, the black Irish comedy is hitting cinemas in the U.K, and ahead of that release, the critics are in a doting mood, to the tune of a 90% score on Rotten Tomatoes

CalvaryGleeson, Reilly and dog in Calvary 

Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a priest trying to do his best in a world of moral deprivation and cultural bankruptcy. “Continually shocked and saddened by the spiteful and confrontational inhabitants of his small country town,” Lavelle’s life is thrown upside down when a member of that fragmented community threatens his life during a confession.

The premise, at least, is an intriguing one. As Lavelle tries to find out who is planning to kill him, he battles to keep his sensitive daughter (Kelly Reilly) on side, while the eccentric population of the small Irish town all seem likely enough to be potential murderers.

“Part ‘Father Ted’, part Tarantino, John Michael McDonagh follows up 2011’s ‘The Guard’ with this wickedly funny black comedy, all fatalism and gallows humour, with both a beating heart and an inquiring mind lingering beneath its tough-guy bluster,” wrote Time Out’s Cath Clarke.

Calvary butcher sceneO' Dowd puts in a hilarious turn in 'Calvary'

“As in The Guard, McDonagh’s writing is so strong that actors who usually star are willing to sign on for only a couple of scenes or even a few smart lines. This is even more Gleeson’s film, but is studded with superb work from Reilly as the damaged yet loyal daughter,” said Kim Newman for Empire.

“The film stings when it shows us how steeply the estate of the church has diminished: when a passing tourist drags his daughter in fury away from the father’s entirely innocuous conversation, the shock on Gleeson’s face speaks to a profound betrayal at the heart of his calling,” wrote Tim Robey for The Telegraph. 

More: Brendan Gleeson To Compete Against His Son At Ifta Awards

In an interview surrounding his Irish black comedy, McDonagh explained that he was interested in making a film about a ‘good priest’ given there were “probably films in development about priests which involve abuse.” It looks as though, despite taking on the delicate subject matter of Catholicism in Ireland, he’s succeeded in the task he charged himself with.

Watch the trailer for Calvary