a strong whiff of Farce about
Not quite as entertainingly as you might have hoped.
Farce, when done well, can be biting; and there is plenty of potential here. The titular Cardinal Sinne — an at times remarkably fragile Grant Smeaton, seemingly at the point of emotional catastrophe — is preparing to leave for Rome to help elect a new Pope. However, for the nominal head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, the day rapidly unravels.
When we first meet him, he’s almost on the point of acting “inappropriately” with a new young student priest — quickly establishing the fundamental conflict between the man’s sexual desires and his role as “an outspoken homophobe” within the Catholic Church.
Then there’s the arrival of an alleged journalist, who turns out to be one of his old “conquests”, now out for recompense or revenge. Just to add to Sinne’s despair, there’s the late arrival of Monsignor Papaleo from a Vatican hierarchy suspicious of Sinne’s unusually liberal attitude to marriage among the priesthood. Very soon, Sinne faces conflicting demands to prove both his heterosexuality and homosexuality, and—as you would expect in a Farce — comes up with some typically cross-dressing stratagems to do so.
As a Joe Orten-esque Farce, however, Cardinal Sinne is undermined on several fronts; despite a uniformly confident cast around him, Smeaton — as director as well as lead —seems unable to build up a sufficient head of steam for the action to properly teeter constantly on the edge of chaos. Not that he’s helped by writer Raymond Burke’s decision to deliberately pause the action throughout with a series of soliloquies, in an presumed authorial attempt to show the social and family pressures of Sinne’s youth which helped make him the man he became. But surely the whole point in Farce is that we shouldn’t wish to sympathise with the central character?
It is also difficult, at this point of time, to watch any such production without relating it directly to the all-too-real fall of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, around whom similar accusations of “inappropriate conduct” with young priests eventually stained his reputation. Cardinal Sinne is not ashamed to riff off some of O’Brien’s more homophobic headlines and his receipt of a Stonewall “Bigot of the Year Award”, yet it also feels a repeated need (and not just for legal reasons, I’m sure) to remain a fictional work aiming to explore more widely “the institutionalised hypocrisy of the religious establishment as it tries to come to terms with sexual modernity.”
This it does but — despite many laughs along the way — not quite as entertainingly as you might have hoped.