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Stars: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond

Director: John Patrick Shanley

Stodgy in parts, but dynamic and moving at the end (although the final line's a bit bewildering, coming as it does out of nowhere), Shanley's award-winning piece is set in a Catholic school sternly run by nuns on 1964. The crusty principal, Sister Aloysius (a bonneted Streep), is held in awe by pupils and nuns alike. 'They're all terrified of you,' she's told. 'Yes,' responds Streep crisply. 'That's how it works.'

Wary of the charismatic new priest, Father Flynn (Hoffman), Sister Aloysius' suspicions of his impropriety with the school's first black pupil, a 12-year-old boy, are fired into action when the school's naive young history teacher (Adams) confesses her disquiet over the relationship.

It appears that the boy has been caught drinking communion wine, but Sister Aloysius believes the priest has given it to him as an inducement, and she and Father Flynn have it out. Sister Aloysius hasn't a shred of proof, only moral intuition, but when Father Flynn blusters in his defence, we, too, wonder...

One or two little twists towards the end give the anecdote body, and the acting is compelling: Streep and Adams in particular couldn't possibly be bettered. Although inevitably rather static (it was originally a hit play), the film commands attention whenever Streep's on screen. The 15 certificate is for implied paedophilia.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Walt Disney (Miramax). Colour by deluxe.
103 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 02 Feb 2009