“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.

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