Controversy sells. A movie based on a real life controversy always stirs public interest. There have been many films in the past that have dealt with controversial elements of celebrities. Their box office successes have depended on how the story has been presented to the audience.

The film According to Matthew is also a take on a famous scandal involving a double murder that happened over 40 years ago at the Vicarage of the Anglican St. Paul’s Church in Punchi Borella. Directed by Chandran Rutnam, the film’s plot primarily deals with the relationship between Anglican priest Fr. Matthew Peiris (played by Alston Koch) and Daphne Reynolds (played by Jacqueline Fernandez) which leads up to the suspicious deaths of Daphne’s husband Randy (played by Kian O’Grady) and Fr Peiris wife Eunice (played by Bimsara Premaratne).

The movie starts with Fr Peiris visiting a prisoner just before his execution. He preaches the word of God and also chases away the demons.

In the film Daphne and Randy are both unemployed and finding it hard to make ends meet. Fr. Peiris helps Randy to get a job at a leading newspaper and suggests that he also joins the Church cricket team which is captained by Steven (Ryan Wijayaratne). Daphne is then appointed as Fr Peiris’ personal secretary who is entrusted with the job of typing his manuscript as he dictates.
The couple (Randy and Daphne) then moves into the vicarage to live with Fr. Peiris and his wife.

Before long, Fr. Peiris develops an attraction towards Daphne and his wife Eunice is sent to England to see their children while Randy goes out of town for a cricket tournament. This is where things take a different turn.

Randy suddenly falls ill and despite his parents’ insistence Fr. Peiris refuses to admit him to hospital saying that he would eventually get well. However, his condition deteriorates and is admitted to hospital in a semi-conscious state and subsequently succumbs to a mysterious illness.

By this time, the relationship between Fr. Peiris and Daphne become the hot topic in the entire neighbourhood. Fr Peiris however denies the rumors when questioned by his children living abroad.

Eunice who returns from the UK after the drama is concerned about the incidents that had taken place in her absence. Though she claimed to be healthy, Fr. Peiris insists that she is suffering from depression and takes her to a psychiatrist.

But Fr. Peiris doctors the medication suggested by the medical specialist and gives his wife his own diabetic medicine. The drug slowly poisons Eunice and she is eventually admitted to hospital in a semi-conscious state. She too passes away.

However, a young sharp intern at the hospital realizes that something is amiss and alerts his colleagues and superiors. What follows is the sequence of events that lead up to the imprisonment of Fr. Peiris and Daphne.

According to director Rutnam he had based the plot of the film on the court records and the narratives of reliable sources. The plot is straightforward and Rutnam has done justice to the story.

However, the slow-paced screenplay could test moviegoers who prefer the nail-biting suspense thrillers. The film has many moments of silence. Rutnam however manages to sustain the audience’s attention despite the well-known storyline. The subtle background score further elevates the mood of the story.
The director has taken great care to preserve the authenticity of the story, set in the 1970s. Starting from the vintage cars and the telephones used in the film, Rutnam made sure that he did not miss anything that could mismatch the storyline and the period. However, there are minor glitches that could have been avoided.

One might feel that the climax was rushed but it could have probably been due to the fact that the emphasis was on what led to Fr. Peiris’ imprisonment.

As far as performance is concerned, Alston Koch adds a somewhat majestic presence to the film. Koch is convincing and authoritative. He commands respect when he preaches from the pulpit but earns the anger of the audience when he subtly schemes to the murders. To the very last, he pleads his innocence with so much conviction that anyone would think twice before accusing him. Kudos to Koch for such a subtle, yet convincing performance. Jacqueline, as the young, attractive wife, looks stunning and sensuous. She delivers a neat performance, but has to improve on her emotive skills. The performances of some of the actors looked very contrived as their delivery of dialogue sounded as if they were reciting something off a book on stage.

The film Produced and Directed by Chandran Rutnam will be released in Sri Lanka and India by Movie Works Media (Pvt) Ltd.

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