When a film features performances by Brenda Blethyn and Susannah York it might entice the viewer into thinking that it might be a highly entertaining film. Unfortunately, The Calling suffers from an inconsistent performance from its central character played by Emily Beecham and a shuffle in tone from comedy to drama.
Joanna (Beecham) is a university student about to graduate when she suddenly feels compelled to answer to her ‘calling’ to be a nun. Her snobbish parents, immature best friend and her boyfriend fail to even indulge Joanna about her calling. Thinking Joanna is being selfish and pushing her life away, she seeks the guidance of Sister Ignatious (Blethyn).
The film shifts through different tones, first opening with a narration direct to the camera by Joanna’s nanny (Harriet Thorpe with a very bad accent), which is sort of comical in a way only because Thorpe has mainly played quirky roles, like this in the past. Much later in the film her narration abruptly starts again, it almost seems like a distraction.
Joanna’s plight to be a nun seems at first selfish, disregarded by her friends and family as a phase, we don’t see a burning desire for her to seek solace in religion. It might have added some quality to the screenplay if we delved a bit more into why Joanna wants to be a nun. The screenplay does touch on this, when Joanna suffered as a child from a brain dysfunction but this storyline is forgotten as the film progresses.
The oddball nuns at the convent are made up of an alcoholic, a whore, and negative old bags that set to stand in Joanna’s way. The audience isn’t sure whether we are meant to laugh at these caricatures. Blethyn and York play their roles with vengeance. Blethyn plays her role with her usual warm down to earth qualities and this carefully offsets the performance of York who plays a manic mentally ill Mother Superior. This would turn out to be York’s final film performance as she died in 2011.
Director Jan Dunn, known mainly for short films, takes the quality of the film a notch above ‘straight to DVD’. Dunn doesn’t direct the film with clear clarity on whether it should be played for laughs or for drama. Without the star presence of York and Bleythn this film would have been overlooked a minor film about a bratty girl wanting to be a nun.