The Monk (1990)


aka Seduction of a Priest

Spain/UK. 1990.


Director/Screenplay – Paco Lara, Based on the Novel by M.G. Lewis, Producers – Paco Lara & Muir Sutherland, Photography – Angel Luis Fernandez, Music – Anton Garcia Abril, Special Effects – Molina, Production Design – Gumiersindo Andres. Production Company – Celtic Films/Mediterraneo Cine-TV


Paul McGann (Father Lorenzo Rojas), Sophie Ward (Matilde de la Venegas/Juan), Sophie Linfield (Angela Dauphin), Isla Blair (Mother Agueda), Freda Dowie (Sister Ursula), Mark Elstrob (Ramon de Madeira), Aitana Sanchez-Gijon (Sister Ines), Laura Davenport (Dona Elvira Dauphin), Marina Saura (Jacinta)


Madrid, 1767. Father Lorenzo Rojas discovers that his novice Juan is in fact a woman of noble birth. She has fallen for him after hearing him preach and given up everything, including her soul, to enter the monastery to be with him. He is drawn into temptation with her and they become lovers. This becomes the beginning of Father Lorenzo’s debasement into an escalating catalogue of sins, ending with his prosecution before The Inquisition.

British Member of Parliament M.G. Lewis caused a scandal in his time with the publication of his lurid and highly sensationalistic novel The Monk (1796). Today, The Monk is recognized as a classic, if not entirely of literature then at least as a progenitor of the 18th Century Gothic tradition. The book fuelled one other film adaptation The Monk (1972), made in France and co-written by the master of Catholic irreverence, Luis Buñuel, no less, and featuring Franco Nero as as Father Ambrosio – although this version has been little seen. French director Dominik Moll made a subsequent adaptation The Monk (2011) starring Vincent Cassel as the monk.

This Anglo-Spanish co-production is interesting although changes the book somewhat. Father Ambrosio and many of the other characters undergo inexplicable name changes and some sections, like Lorenzo/Ambrosio’s rape and murder of Antonia/Angela, are trimmed down. Most disappointingly, the inherently cinematic ending wherein Lorenzo/Ambrosio survives the Inquisition by making a pact with the Devil, only to be thrown from a cliff where he lies for six days and nights while his body is torn apart by eagles, has been thrown out (no doubt for budgetary reasons) in favour of a more upbeat ending that allows for his salvation. (As a result, the Spanish Inquisition somewhat bizarrely comes out looking like the US Cavalry riding in to save the day).

Nevertheless, the book is adhered to sufficiently to provide an entertaining potboiler. It is dramatically flat but there is a wonderful torturedness, seemingly driven by the most lurid Catholic neurosis imaginable, to all its crazed passions and repressed sexuality. The film languishes in guilt, suffering, tortured sexuality, damnation and desperate clinging to legalistic vows in a way that proves fascinating. Paul McGann makes a somewhat dogged monk but Sophie Ward has a fresh innocence as the face of temptation.

Spanish director Paco Lara, better known as Francisco Lara Polop, elsewhere made a variety of sex films throughout the 1970s and 80s. His one other venture into genre cinema was his first film, the Gothic Old Dark House film The Murder Mansion (1972).

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