Albert Finney's Dublin bus conductor incurs small-town wrath with a staging of Wilde's Salome.
In a clever pastiche on the story of Oscar Wilde's persecution for being a homosexual, first-time helmer Krishnamma sets out to show how prevailing smalltown prejudices and the obsession with mortal sin have been tempered very little since the Victorian playwright's stormy career. The story centres on downtrodden bus conductor Alfie Byrne (Finney) who decides to stage an amateur dramatic version of Wilde's play Salome in 1963 Dublin. In doing so he incurs the wrath of the God-fearing locals who see the salacious play as the work of the devil. As tensions rise, it's Alfie who risks being destroyed by the moral majority's crusade.
He assembles his motley cast from the regular passengers on his bus, but when fiery butcher Carney (Gambon) is offended at being offered only a small part, he launches a bitter campaign against the blasphemous play. But both he and his co-conspirator (Fricker), underestimate the solidarity of the talentless but kind-hearted band, especially Adele (Tara Fitzgerald) whom Alfie grooms to play the leading role. When Alfie and Adele become the objects of an ill-fated matchmaking, Alfie has to confront his own sexuality and face an affronted society in much the same way as Wilde.
Despite a somewhat stifled start to proceedings, this is full to brimming with doleful pathos and a potent cast. Finney confirms his status as one of the very finest character actors. He skillfully extracts humility and inhibited passion while drifting effortlessly between tragedy and comedy with an ease belying what is clearly a complex role, the centrepiece of an entirely uplifting experience.
Guaranteed to wrench even the most resilient of heart strings.