Cal (1984)



Director:  Pat O'Connor.

Starring:  Helen Mirren (Marcella), John Lynch (Cal), Donal McCann (Shamie), John Kavanagh (Skeffington), Ray McAnally (Cyril Dunlop), Stevan Rimkus (Crilly), Catherine Gibson (Mrs. Morton), Louis Rolston (Dermot Ryan), Tom Hickey (Preacher), Gerard Mannix Flynn (Arty), Seamus Forde (Mr. Morton), Edward Byrne (Skeffington Sr), J.J. Murphy (Man in Library), Audrey Johnson (Lucy), Brian Munn (Robert Morton). .

Country:  British



Cal is a 19 year old involved with the IRA who helps kill a man in the line of  "duty" and then falls in love with the murdered man's wife (Helen Mirren).


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Northern Ireland.  An IRA gunman kills a policeman and wounds the man's father.  He was accompanied by a driver for the get-away car. 

Cal is an unemployed Catholic in Northern Ireland. His father works as a butcher.  Cal is interested in an older woman, the local librarian Marcella.  She is the Catholic widow of the Protestant policeman who was killed by the IRA gunman. 

Cal's father tells him that Crilly wants to see him.  His father doesn't like Crilly and is suspicious about what the man is doing.  Crilly is a school teacher.  He tells Cal that they have been losing too many good people.  They need a driver and Cal is it.  Cal protests: "I won't do it. I've no stomach for it."  But Crilly doesn't seem to care what Cal wants. 

Cal follows Marcella and helps her carry her groceries to her car.  Back at home, Cal gets a note from the Protestants saying "Get out you Catholic scum or we'll burn you out."  He shows the note to his father, fills the tub with water and puts a blanket on the edge of the tub just in case the Protestants do set the house on fire.  Dad loads his pistol.  Father and son wonder if they should move somewhere else.

Cal gets up late but manages to make it to church.  There he watches Marcella and notices that she has a young daughter.  Later father and son chop up a tree to sell for firewood.  Cal drives the wood over to Marcella's house and sells it to her mother-in-law. 

Three young Protestant toughs wait for Cal to show up near his house and when he appears they beat him up.  Cal, however, is able to get away from them.  His father notices his bloody nose and Cal tells him what happened.  No, he says he does not know the names of his three attackers. 

Cal returns to Marcella's house to split the wood the mother-in-law purchased the day before.  He sees Marcella and talks to her for a while.  The mother-in-law takes a liking to Cal and gives him a temporary job picking potatoes.  When he finishes that job she tells Call to ask the supervisor, Mr. Dunlop, to fix him up with another job. 

The IRA gunman grabs Cal and tells him "It's on."  Cal has not choice but to be the driver.  The gunman robs a bank and Cal drives him to and from the place of the robbery. 

Cal sees Marcella again, this time at the library.  Returning home, Cal sees that his house is on fire.  Fearing that his father is trapped in the house, Cal tries to run into the building but is prevented from doing so by the firemen.  The firemen then direct him to his father who is sitting down resting.  (The house was not insured.)  Cal and his father are taken in by a neighbor. 

Cal tells his father that he can't stay with the neighbor.  He is worried about being forced by the IRA to work for them again.  Cal still works at Marcella's farm.  One day he breaks into an old abandoned building across from the main house.  He is thinking that maybe he could live there surreptitiously.  In preparation for the move, Cal tells his father to tell everyone that he went to England.  Cal starts to stay in the abandoned building.  But he foolishly uses a lantern and the light in the abandoned building is spotted by the mother-in-law.  British soldiers burst into the building and pick up Cal.  Marcella tells them that she knows their captive and they let him go.  The mother-in-law asks Cal:  "Why didn't you tell us you were burnt out?"  Marcella comes up with the idea that they will make Cal a tenant but with no rent.  The mother-in-law agrees but warns Cal:  "You go when I say you go." 

Marcella has a day off and she helps Cal fix up his room in the abandoned building.  She complains to Cal that she can't stand her father-in-law's coughing.  Cal was the driver for the gunman who killed Marcella's husband and he still has frequent flashbacks to the night of the killing. 

Cal pays a visit to his father.  He finds his father crying.  The man has been depressed ever since the burning of his home.  Cal wants him to go see the doctor about his depression, but his father refuses asking the wrong-headed question:  "Aren't we all depressed?"  Before Cal leaves his father tells him that two guys were looking for him  -- probably two IRA men. 

Back at his room, Marcella tells Cal that her father-in-law is going into the Belfast Hospital and her mother-in-law is going to be with him.  She invites him over for dinner.  At dinner she says: "I feel so isolated here."  Cal and Marcella start kissing, but Marcella suddenly stops saying:  "No, we can't."  This upsets Cal and he leaves.  She tells him later that he is being childish and adds:  "Be my friend."  But Cal is too upset to listen. 

They do not see each other for awhile, but one night Marcella comes over to Cal's room.  She apologizes for upsetting him and asks for his forgiveness.  Cal invites her in.  She undresses, he undresses and they have sex.  Later Cal learns that Marcella didn't like her husband that much. 

In town Cal buys some Christmas gifts for Marcella, her daughter and the in-laws.   The gunman bumps into Cal and forces Cal to accompany him.  He tells Cal that his father is in the mental asylum.  The gunman takes him to see the school teacher.  Cal tells him again that he wants out, but they don't care.  Cal has to accompany the gunman on another hit. 

Completing the job, the gunman and Cal get into the car with the school teacher and the driver.  As they drive, they run into a British checkpoint.  The gunman panics and says: "We're dead if they search us."  The school teacher tells everyone to remain calm but the gunman insists that the driver runs through the checkpoint.  The car takes off and the British soldiers fire at it.  The car crashes killing the school teacher.  Cal is wounded but is able to get away.  The gunman is arrested.  (They didn't say what happened to the driver.)  The gunman screams for Cal saying that he will not get away with this. 

Cal makes it back to Marcella's house.  She wants to tend to his wound but he won't let her.  He starts to tell Marcella the truth about her husband, but Marcella does not want to hear it, and Cal cannot get it out anyway.  Cal returns to his room.  The police arrest Cal and rough him up saying "He was our mate, you bastard."  Marcella watches as Cal is driven away to jail. 


Good movie.  And a good love story as well. But in Northern Ireland there are too many problems and conflicts and, therefore, too many obstacles that prevent a love story coming to its full fruition.  Life in Northern Ireland for the Irish Catholics is a drear one with a great deal of prejudice, discrimination and violence.  Poor Cal is torn between the Protestants who beat him up and burn down his home and the IRA which forces him to work for them against his will.  He doesn't have the stomach for the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland and he has to pay a high price for trying to walk the line between the two hostile forces all around him so he can find happiness with the woman who he loves.  In the end, it is all just too much for one couple to overcome. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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