An impressive cast and fabulous locales can’t elevate this well meaning but completely absurd costumer from years of certain servitude in parochial school auditoriums. While the timely pic may initially draw interest based on its subject, “St. Patrick: The Irish Legend” simply doesn’t have the makings of a religious or holiday classic.
Fox Family Channel obviously sank some considerable change into this original film, using sweeping Irish locales, elaborate sets and an enormous display of special effects to propel this story of a religious icon. Director Robert Hughes approaches pic with the enthusiasm of Ned Flanders, but in his zeal to make this religious story accessible to younger viewers, he creates a pious superhero at the expense of historical credibility.
This new, improved image, courtesy of Hughes and fellow writer Martin Duffy, paints Patrick more as a staff-wielding Hercules than as the devout leader who became the first bishop of Ireland. Film depicts Patrick’s life chronologically, from his youth as a privileged son of a nobleman in 5th century Britain to his six years as a slave and ultimate appointment as bishop in the face of great opposition.
Although much is made of his rebellious youth and enslavement in Ireland, pic works best when Patrick’s political struggles with the Church of Britain take center stage. Instead of resorting to the fire and brimstone theatrics used to scare the Druids, Patrick must take on the very real and imposing Bishop Quentin (Malcolm McDowell), who tries to have him excommunicated after he refuses to establish Britain’s system of church taxes. These events come late in the film, however, and by then, Hughes has already begun to hurriedly wrap things up.
Bergen, as Patrick, possesses the innate seriousness needed for the role of such a determined man though it appears that even he is straining to keep a straight face through some of the more fantastical sequences.
McDowell is a perfectly pious fit for Bishop Quentin, although his screen time is rather limited. His role, along with those of Patrick’s parents, Calpornius and Concessa, played by Alan Bates and Susannah York, bring some much-needed dignity to the production.
While James Mathers’ camera work and a musical score featuring the Chieftains and Clannad seem to be made for the bigscreen, special effects by Foundation Imaging are more of the caliber of a Saturday afternoon action series.