“Say Your Prayers” review – goofy Christian hitman comedy

Smart pacing, sharp editing and classy cameos elevate this Yorkshire-set tale above many recent crime capers

The team behind 2016’s eye-catching indie Chubby Funny – producer Helen Simmons and director Harry Michell – return with another agreeably off-beam comedy, this time with a starrier cast and a goofy, Four Lions-ish premise. It’s the tale of sibling Christian hitmen who, envious of the column inches logged by rival fundamentalists, set out to kill a Dawkins-like author at a literary festival in Ilkley.

Tim (Harry Melling) is the childlike younger brother, ill-suited to grisly murder; the uptight Vic (Tom Brooke) an unrepentant sociopath. Their target (Roger Allam, master of glib dismissiveness) need not worry unduly: an astutely timed prologue shows our would-be ruthless killers stalking a rambler who looks just enough like Allam for the first of several terrible mistakes to be made.

The pacing of that opening instantly elevates Michell’s film over a half-dozen recent British crime-comedies. We’re heading towards a set-piece that’s the Yorkshire Britpic equivalent of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’s opera-house assassination, while the gags allow supporting players to dig in and make an impression. Anna Maxwell Martin is formidably sarky as a detective aghast at having to enter the artsy-fartsy literary scene; Derek Jacobi has a classy cameo as a priest who justifies the hit with chilly mouthfuls of scripture; Matthew Steer’s brisk, funny sketch of the spineless festival chief will likely cue cringes of recognition in some quarters.

Having the action observed by a roving male voice choir – representing the C of E’s safe centre ground – looks like a cheeky crib from the Icelandic hit Woman at War, but it’s a solid evening’s entertainment, assembled with an assurance rare at this budgetary level. Norwegian-born cinematographer Sverre Sørdal provides attractive glimpses of the moors (still under-utilised as a Britfilm resource), while sharp editing serves both the comedy and thriller aspects. Simmons and Michell, blessed with good ideas and the craft to do them justice, are building a notable filmography on the margins: let’s hope the industry’s moneymen are watching.

Source: Say Your Prayers review – goofy Christian hitman comedy

Alison Steadman: ‘I never thought I would live in such strange and scary times’

The actor is back from lockdown with two new dramas. She talks about her 50-year career, Boris Johnson and the joy of miaowing at John Cleese, while James Corden, Julia Davis and Mike Leigh pay tribute

It took less than a week of lockdown for Alison Steadman to start making puppets. Supplies weren’t a problem; this is a woman so anti-waste she thinks supermarkets should charge a fiver for plastic bags and donates her old hair to the birds. “It’s very good for nests; it’s soft and it complements the grass and sticks.”

So, come late March, she decided to knock together a Mr Punch to entertain her grandson on FaceTime. “I’d got all the stuff: toilet roll holder, newspaper, flour, plasticine, Christmas decorations, an old cushion.

“I love Punch and Judy. When I was a child, we’d sometimes go shopping in Liverpool city centre and my treat, if I behaved, was to watch it outside St George’s Hall. People say: ‘Oh, but he used to beat his wife with a stick.’ But as a kid you don’t know that. It’s just fun.”

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Documentary: “In Search of English Folk Song”

Famed filmmaker Ken Russell tours the countryside in search of the roots of the English folk song in this eye-opening documentary. His travels reveal the history of the form, its remnants in modern music and the ways it evolved as it was carried to Ireland and the New World. Performances and interviews with Donovan, Fairport Convention, June Tabor and other artists help illustrate the changing face of English folk music through the centuries.