I had an unusual call last week from a man who wanted to come and take some photos outside of the church. Once I had satisfied myself of his good intentions I discovered that this man’s passion was journeying to film locations and trying to match stills from the film with how the location looked now.
He wanted to come to St. Mungo’s because the church had been used many years back in a film called Heavenly Pursuits. When I relayed this to Father Gareth he got very excited, because he loves his films, and he immediately went on to the internet to find this film. It was a light-hearted comedy released in 1986, starring Helen Mirren; Tom Conti and David Hayman, and it tells the story of a teacher at a Catholic school whose students are searching for two miracles that would help promote the late (and fictional) Edith Semple to sainthood.
What surprised me was that, if the film was released in 1986, then I must have been stationed in St. Mungo’s at the time, as I was part of the community here from 1983-1986, but I have no recollection of it at all. Of course, I was away a lot then, doing vocations work, and giving missions and retreats, so I can only assume that the filming was done during one of those pastoral journeys. But it pains me to think that, having become a big fan of Helen Mirren later on in life, especially when she was in Prime Suspect, that she was here at St. Mungo’s and I never got the chance to meet her. I’m sure if the late Fr. Anthony Behan had been here he would have remembered it well. He was also a member of the community at the time, and a great film buff, and no doubt he made a deep impression on Helen Mirren with his charms.
I have, however, been in other Passionist Retreats when some kind of filming was taking place, and I got the chance to meet a few famous film stars. When I was doing my diaconate year in Rome from 1982-83, I met Gregory Peck and Christopher Plummer when they filmed some scenes from The Scarlet and the Black in the monastery garden of Saints John and Paul where I was living at the time. This was a TV movie which told the story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, a real life Irish-born Catholic priest who, while in Rome, saved thousands of Jews, and helped escaped Allied Prisoners of War, during World War II.
Mount Argus in Dublin has been used a number of times for films and TV dramas. I was there for meetings one time in the late 1990’s when they were filming a TV drama called The Ambassador, and I met the lead star, Pauline Collins, whom I had loved when she was in the film Shirley Valentine a few years before. She was playing the new British ambassador to the Republic of Ireland and some of the big meeting rooms in Mount Argus were being used for scenes supposedly taking place at the British Embassy in Ballsbridge.
More recently there was an Irish TV soap opera called Red Rock, set in the fictional seaside town of Red Rock in County Dublin. The locations manager came along and asked if he could use the entrance in and out of the new monastery at Mount Argus as the funeral parlour in the series. I might have been offended by that, but I had just been on holiday to Westport, and it turned out the locations manager’s father was the head of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Westport, so I felt I could trust him, and I gave the necessary permission. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out, as we weren’t able to shut down the monastery for the length of time they needed for filming, but they did do some other filming in and around the grounds for various scenes – there were no big stars for me to meet though.
Here is a quote from the above-mentioned Pauline Collins about goodness and evil in films: “I think goodness is very powerful, but evil is often made more attractive in films. It’s a challenge to make goodness appealing. I was brought up a Catholic, so I have to believe in the goodness of human beings. I think we’re not so bad after all”