Saint Patrick: Iconic Legend

By Heidi Pritchett

Patrick Bergin as Patrick in St Patrick: the Irish Legend (2000)

St. Patrick: the Irish Legend is a Fox Family film that was made for TV. It was produced by Robert Hughes (director Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series) and tells about the life of Patrick the Patron Saint of Ireland. The film gives a mostly accurate account of Patrick's early life as a captured slave and the later years of his ministry in Ireland. However, some parts of the film are fictional and could be misleading especially for someone who lacks any background knowledge of the subject matter.

Most people associate Saint Patrick with the modern holiday that we know as Saint Patrick's Day, a holiday in the United States of parades, festivals, drinking, and of course the famous wearing of the green. Many who celebrate the day have little idea of who the man behind the myth really is. If asked, most would say that Patrick was the Patron Saint of Ireland or that he is credited with driving the snakes from the island, but do they know why or how? People do not realize that Saint Patrick was a God fearing man who brought Christianity to Ireland and saved the pagan souls from the depths of hell fire.

St. Patrick: the Irish Legend depicts Patrick as a God fearing man endowed with true belief and spiritual faith. In the film young Patrick played by Luke Griffin lives a privileged life with his family in fifth century Britain. Britain in the fifth century had been led to Christianity under the emperor Constantine and was very much a Christianized society. According to the A&E biography on Saint Patrick his family was rooted in Christian beliefs as his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. Patrick however was not a highly religious young boy.

Luke Griffin as Young Luke in St. Patrick: Irish Legend (2000)

Patrick is pushed by his father, Calpornius played by Alan Bates, to study hard. One day Patrick's mother Concessa, played by Susannah York, finds that young Patrick has gone off with his friend Briain, played by Stephen Brennan. The two wander into the forest and come upon the site of a Pagan ritual that will be held later that night. Patrick is intrigued by the ritual and his friend warns him to stay away. Later that night Patrick returns to the site where he witnesses Pagans dancing around a fire and giving sacrifices up to their Pagan gods. Patrick is coerced into joining in the ritual and upon sunrise invaders from Ireland come and take Patrick and the others captive. Patrick then is shipped to Ireland and sold as a slave. He offers to pay triple the price to his new owner for his freedom but is mocked and sent to tend sheep in the hills. While tending the sheep Patrick is faced with hunger and cold. He does not want to accept his fate as a slave and finds solace in praying to God. He becomes very fervent in praying and does so day and night, sometimes praying incessantly. He wrote, "The love of God and his fear grew in me more and more, as did the faith, and my soul was roused, so that, in a single day, I have said as many as a hundred prayers and in the night, nearly the same." "I prayed in the woods and on the mountain, even before dawn. I felt no hurt from the snow or ice or rain." As Patrick's faith in God grows he finally comes to terms with being a slave. The other slaves started looking at Patrick as a holy man and refer to him as such. One day in the village Patrick's life is threatened by his master and Patrick says he has no fear for God is with him. His life is then spared and Patrick preaches the lesson of “do unto others the same that you would have them do to you;" he then returns to the mountain and the flock and receives a vision from God that he is to return home to Britain on a ship that awaits for him with free passage. He has faith in the vision and leaves for the sea where he is met by Pagan sea men. Patrick is refused passage on the ship at first but the Pagans fear Patrick's God and grant him a ride. Patrick arrives home after six years of being a slave and is welcomed home by his family with much joy. His father offers him a gift of anything he wants and Patrick chooses a Bible, stating that it would mean a lot to him so that he could finally understand his faith. A party is thrown in honor of the return of the lost son. While at the feast Patrick receives a vision of the children of Ireland beckoning him to return to save them. Calpornius encourages his son to begin his studies again and Patrick reveals to his father that he wishes to attend a school in Gaul to become a priest. His father is less than enthused by the idea but allows his son to go. When Patrick arrives at the school he is welcomed by his old friend Briain who has also joined the priesthood. Patrick believes that it is his destiny to be Bishop of Ireland and shares his goal with those at the monastery. The film then jumps to a few years later and Patrick is now a man. Paladius, an older priest. pays a visit to the monastery in Gaul and he is being sent to Ireland to teach Christianity. Patrick asks to accompany him but is told that he cannot go at this time but that he will be sent for later after they had established a religious foothold. Paladius embarks on his mission and comes to the village where Patrick once was a slave and is run out. On his way back to Rome Paladius dies, giving Patrick the opportunity to fulfill his lifelong dream of teaching the Irish the Christian faith. Before heading to Ireland Patrick meets with Bishop Quentin who fears that Patrick will only set up his own church in Ireland and will not be under the British church. Patrick tells him that will not be the case and embarks on his journey.

Upon arriving to Ireland Patrick steps out of a boat and strikes his staff on the ground. Snakes begin to rise out of the ground and flee into the sea and this is taken as a sign from God (this part of the film is a little science fictional and of course there were never any snakes on the island in the first place; it is completely mythical but nicely incorporated into the film). The first stop Patrick makes is in the village where he was once a slave. He is recognized by the ones still there as the holy man they once knew. Patrick's owner is indifferent about Patrick's arrival and fears the ancient prophecy. He takes all his possessions and flees into his house which he sets on fire, and takes his life rather than give in to Patrick. When Patrick and his disciple Auxilius and Iserninus leave the village they are followed by Benignus a young slave boy who finds faith in Patrick's words. They seek out the leader of Ireland King Longhaire in efforts to convert him from his Pagan faith. Once arriving at the palace King Longhaire puts Patrick's God to a test against his druid holy man. A fire is built and Benignus must enter. The king states that if Patrick's God is mighty and real then they shall not burn up. The druid takes Patrick's cloak and places it on himself and forces Benignus to enter in with him. The druid is burned up and Patrick's cloak and Benignus survive (this closely relates to the story in the Bible of the fiery furnace). The king then bows to Patrick and accepts his God. Patrick then goes on preaching a teaching the gospel throughout Ireland. Quentin the bishop of Britain grows more fearful that Patrick will desert the church of Britain and begin his own church. Patrick however maintains his faith and ignores the bishop's order to leave Ireland. He continues building churches and missions. Then Patrick is met again by his friend Briain who announces to Patrick that he has been named Bishop of Ireland. Patrick returns to the mountain top where he once was a slave and fasts and prays to God.

The main character Patrick played by Patrick Bergin (Patriot Games and Sleeping with the Enemy) was portrayed in the film as a very faithful servant of God. This is an accurate representation of Saint Patrick himself. Patrick was taken as a slave although the movie’s portrayal of being kidnapped from a Pagan ritual is not proven accurate. In the A&E biography
film Saint Patrick: the Man the Myth, Patrick is said to have been taken captive from his home on the seaside the actual account of Patrick becoming a slave is not historically documented. He did indeed study at Gaul to be a member of the priesthood as depicted in the film although it was not exactly required in the fifth century to go away to school to study to become part of the priesthood. Patrick's arrival in Ireland was during the fourth year reign of King Longhaire, also accurately portrayed in the film. The movie’s portrayal of Patrick's magical powers, however, is not accurate to his life. His ability to use magic is a myth made up to combine teachings in the bible with Pagan beliefs to gain Patrick respect with the Pagan people. In the film Patrick is shown as using a three leaf clover as teaching the concept of the holy trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It is said that this is historically accurate and is perhaps why the shamrock has become a symbol for Saint Patrick's Day. Patrick's effort to convert Ireland to a Christian society was not in vain.

We know this to be true because in all of history there are only two known letters that were written by Patrick - the Confessio and the Epistola ad Milites Corotici. These letters are the earliest written documents to survive from Ireland. In the film we periodically see Patrick writing a letter as he recounts his life and mission. The letter that he is most likely perceived as writing in the film is probably the Confessio. The Confessio was an autobiographical letter written by Patrick in his older years and gives a detailed description of his early life as a slave and his vision of spreading Christianity to Ireland. Without these letters having survived, little would be known about Saint Patrick. He had remarkable success in spreading Christianity to the Pagan people, unlike his predecessor Paladius, and was successful in teaching the people for forty years.

Patrick Bergin as Patrick in St Patrick: the Irish Legend (2000)

Although Patrick was the main character there were some minor characters in the film that help to convey the message of Patrick's eternal struggle and his passion to fulfill his mission of becoming Bishop of Ireland. For instance Calpornius, Patrick's father played by Alan Bates, is a relatively small role but it reinforces the idea that Patrick faced trial and tribulations in choosing to do God's will. In one scene after Patrick returns home and receives his vision, Calpornius pleads with him not to go to Ireland and saying that if he does he will no longer be his son. Patrick is heavy hearted about not having his father's support but he ultimately chooses to go and do the will of after Lord. Of course before his departure Calpornius finally grants Patrick his blessing.

The film was made in Ireland and there were many brief scenes of the countryside that I thought made the viewer feel more connected with the storyline. The original music of the film was provided by Iron Zur and reflects Celtic culture. The costumes worn in the film were not accurate for the fifth century as far as the dress of the bishops. The large hats worn by the bishops were of eighteenth century not fifth century dress. Another inaccuracy in the film was when Patrick requested a Bible. This would have been almost impossible to obtain as the Bible was not in print and was only available to priestly scholars. I do believe that the daily lives of people were portrayed well even though there were only a few brief scenes that showed the townspeople or slaves. There were some parts of the film that were a little bit too science fictional or mystical such as Patrick using powers to stop a man in his tracks and the snakes fleeing into the sea by the touching of Patrick's staff. The myth of Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland is just that. Snakes were probably never on the island and the idea is used more as a metaphor to describe the driving out of the druids as proverbial snakes. Also there is a part in the film where Patrick and his disciples are transformed into deer in order to escape an attack by the king’s army. Those parts of the film may lead some to look at Patrick as a wizard performing magic instead of a follower of Christ. Many of the characters in the film were non fictional but the names given to them are not perfectly accurate. All of the stories you read about Saint Patrick tell of him being a slave in Ireland but the identity of his master is never revealed.

All in all, I would say that it is mostly a good film that has some solid factual information but lacks in some aspects of depicting the fifth century. The film was the first to be produced about Saint Patrick but it has yet to receive any awards or awards for any of the actors or actresses. A person with no background knowledge of Saint Patrick and his teachings may be left unsure of what is real and what is fictional. Although a good storyline, the film itself lacks in appealing to people’s interest to watch. The film was released in March of 2000 and was distributed by the Fox Family Channel. It had really poor graphics for the time in which it was shot and was truly similar to the graphics of badly shot, under budget films of the 80s. All the actors in the film are virtual unknowns in acting, with the exception of Patrick Bergin who did play a role in a Julia Roberts film. You won't find any A list stars being a part of this film. The acting really lacked ability to draw the viewers in and make them connect with the characters being portrayed.

If you are searching for a high paced intense film with graphic gory battles and scandalous sex scenes and full of drama this is not the movie for you. The film is strictly a film recounting events in history and Patrick's mission to spread Christianity with no drama whatsoever; it basically falls into the category of another boring made for TV biography. However I must say that the director and actors did attempt to make it entertaining but some things are just lost causes. Also this is not a film to help you further understand the origins of Saint Patrick's Day and why we all go out and drink a pint of our favorite brew on this festive day so if that's strictly what you're looking for, keep searching. But it would be beneficial I think to watch this film along with other relevant films to know just who the man was. I do believe one would be able to use this film as a teaching tool about Saint Patrick if the need was felt. I would rate the film as two out of five stars; I think that most critics would agree although so far there are very few reviews of the film. I do not find it to be a film I would enjoy watching again and probably would not recommend it to any of my friends to watch. If you are someone truly interested in knowing more about Saint Patrick the man, I would suggest researching through books rather than sitting through this not very remarkable film.