Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Carey On: "Candle in the Dark: The Story of William Carey" (1998)

I have often wondered how missionaries of any religious persuasion can simply pick up their lives and move to a possibly hostile land to preach their message. Now imagine a lowly Baptist cobbler taking his wife, his sister-in-law, and his three young children from their comfortable lives in England to Calcutta, the early 1790's.

William Carey (Richard Attlee) is concerned right away that he has misunderstood God's calling. His wife, Dolly (Lynette Edwards) and her sister Kitty (Julie-Kate Olivier) are very unhappy as the family moves around aimlessly, with William unable to convert a single soul. Things look up when William gets a paying job, but then one of his sons dies and Dolly is inconsolable and hysterical as William plunges into further self-doubt.

William also witnesses the barbaric act of Sati, the Hindu tradition of killing the widow of a dead man on her husband's burning funeral pyre. As Carey toils, his missionary society sends a master printer to help him, and it seems William's purpose is finally revealed.

Shot on video on location in India, the film falls into the familiar trappings of your average biopic. Writer/director Tew takes us through the ups and downs of William Carey's tumultuous life, barely letting the viewer catch their breath. We cover almost thirty years in a little over an hour and a half, and I would have liked to have had the chance to stop and breathe and bask in what Carey was experiencing- his faith and strength in the face of horrific adversity.

Luckily, the film is anchored by an award-worthy performance by Attlee as William Carey. He appears in almost every scene and he is excellent. The supporting cast is fine, but unfortunately the script requires them to be in either the highs of religious fervor or the gloomy depths of hysterical depression without any middle ground.

Technically, the musical score and editing are strong, and only a few instances of differently-shot stock footage mar otherwise impressive photography. The costume design is spot-on, and the Indian performers portray actual characters, not nameless masses of faces getting preached to by some white guy.

William Carey once said "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God." Carey lived this mantra, facing down tragedies that would kill weaker men and women. William Carey brought God's Word to India, and "Candle in the Dark" brings his work back to the west. (* * * *) out of five stars.