As Catholics and non-Catholics alike prepare to don green and celebrate the life of one of history’s most famous saints, a new docudrama, “I Am Patrick: The Patron Saint of Ireland,” seeks to provide “the rest of the story” about the life of St. Patrick. Debuting in theaters nationwide for a two-day Fathom event on March 17 and 18, “I Am Patrick” uses as its basis the saint’s own words, sourced primarily from St. Patrick’s Confessio and his “Epistle to Coroticus, a Letter to the Christian Subjects of the Tyrant Coroticus.”
The film’s executive producer, Gordon Robertson, CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network, shared recently that his interest in this latest installment of CBN Films’ works on historical people and events stems from his personal interest in the “apostle of Ireland” and his sense that Patrick’s messages have tremendous resonance in today’s world. As a missionary himself in India, Robertson was inspired by the saint’s courage and zeal and took St. Patrick’s Breastplate as one of his personal devotional tools.
In a desire to present historically accurate information, filmmaker Jarred Anderson , who directed, produced and wrote the screenplay for “I Am Patrick,” paid meticulous attention to detail. With the permission of the government of Ireland, a replica of a fifth-century Irish village was constructed for shooting. British authorities permitted shooting in an authentic fifth-century Roman villa.
To provide a picture of Patrick throughout the course of his life, three actors portray the saint. Irish actor Robert McCormack plays Patrick in his younger years as a privileged youth. Seán T. O. Meallaigh, best known for his work on “Vikings,” portrays Patrick through the majority of the film into middle age. While at work on the project, filmmakers learned that Meallaigh had participated in a project on the life of St. Patrick for Irish television and already was quite familiar with the Confessio. Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies, who starred as the dwarf Gimli in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, gives an iconic performance as the elder Patrick.
“I Am Patrick” opens with the words of the saint himself as he opened his Confessio, inviting viewers to turn our previously held conceptions of his legacy on end. Waves crash dramatically ashore as Rhys-Davies’ elder Patrick strides along a cliff dressed not in Kelly green vestments but rather in a more appropriate barren wool robe. We hear the cry of seabirds as the elderly bishop thoughtfully considers the vista.
“To narrate in detail either the whole story of my labors or even parts of it would take a long time. So, I shall tell you briefly how God, the all holy one, often freed me from slavery.” As Rhys-Davies continues his compelling monologue, we are treated to a preview of images of Patrick as a young slave, as a priest and a missionary, foreshadowing the story that will develop throughout the film. “And from 12 dangers, which threatened my life, as well as many snares from things, which I am unable to express in words.” The elder Patrick pulls from his satchel a tattered parchment document, his Confessio, and wordlessly ponders his life as we’re treated to an overhead view of the swirling seas below him and the full story begins.
Relying on experts
Throughout “I Am Patrick,” experts provide historical and theological context for the saint’s story. Dr. Tim Campbell, director of The Saint Patrick Centre , provides testimony at the film’s outset that helps us trace some of the popular myths about St. Patrick, for example, that he wore green and was Irish. He quickly alerts us that “most of the preconception we’ve got about St. Patrick is completely wrong.” We next see Rhys-Davies’ elderly St. Patrick tossing and turning atop his bed of straw. He rises, lights a lamp and takes a quill in hand to pen those iconic early words of the Confessio. “I am Patrick. I am a sinner; the most unsophisticated of people, the least among all the Christians and to some the most contemptible. “
What follows is a blend of dramatic recreation of Patrick’s life mixed with interviews to place the drama into accurate detail. Expert consultants who speak on the film include Campbell, Elizabeth Dawson , Charles Doherty , Father Billy Swan, Thomas O’Loughlin and Very Reverend Henry Hull . The director of photography, Colm Hogan, does masterful work in capturing the grandeur of Ireland and also the squalor of Patrick’s enslavement. Production designer Lynne Williams ‘ attention to detail is notable as are the designs of costumer Gemma Keenan . The film’s original score by Rob Pottorf is magnificent. Moe Dunford ‘s narration is a terrific complement to voiceover work provided by John Rhys-Davies. Costuming, hair and makeup selections were designed to create an immersive experience to give viewers an accurate sense of some of the lesser-known parts of Patrick’s life.
The closing moments of the film remind us of the ongoing power of Patrick’s spirituality. Again, at the sea, we witness the elder Patrick as he hands a document to one of his followers. “I pray for those who believe in and have reverence for God. Some of them may come upon this writing which Patrick, a sinner, wrote in Ireland ,” Rhys-Davies professes again from the words of the Confessio. “May none of them ever say that whatever little I did or made known to please God was done through ignorance. Instead, you can judge and believe in all truth that it was a gift of God. This is my confession before I die .”
“I Am Patrick” is itself a gift in that it helps us to better know a man who gave his all so that others might know and love God. See it in select theaters nationwide on March 17 and 18.
Lisa Hendey writes from California.