For two weeks a year Ilkley, an idyllic Yorkshire spa town, plays host to thousands of avid book-lovers as well as some of the most celebrated names in academia for its annual Literary Festival.
Orphaned brothers and Christian radicals, Tim and Vic, arrive in Ilkley with the relatively straightforward task of assassinating Professor John Huxley. However, after a classic case of mistaken identity, they find themselves having murdered the wrong man. Now stuck in the town during Ilkley’s busiest weekend, they wait for the arrival of a foreboding mentor to give them instruction. The mission must still be completed – that’s providing Vic’s rage, Tim’s doubts or the efforts of foul-mouthed Detective Inspector Brough don’t get in the way first.
The film is the second feature from director Harry Michell. Likened to In Bruges set in a Yorkshire spa town, Say Your Prayers is written by Michell and writer-comedian Jamie Fraser.
Evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins spoke at the real Ilkley Literature Festival in 2017, while poet WH Auden got into a fracas with a local vicar over which version of the Bible to use at the 1973 inaugural event.
Those who have been inquiring when Roger Allam will portray the late writer and ardent secularist Christopher Hitchens in a biopic will enjoy his performance as the militant atheist Professor John Huxley in the film.
Producer Helen Simmons describes the character as “an amalgamation of those very prolific media writers and thinkers”. Roger Allam was “high up on our list” for the role as “we thought he would get the character just right”.
Maxwell Martin plays detective DCI Brough, while David Jacobi is vicar Father Enoch, who raised orphaned brothers Tim (Harry Melling) and Vic (Tom Brooke) and instructs them to murder Huxley. Also featuring are Vinette Robinson and Flora Spencer-Longhurst.
Inspired by documentaries about religious fanaticism, Michell and Fraser visited a series of literary festivals before picking Ilkley as the backdrop for their belief systems clash, receiving help and endorsement from the event’s organisers.
“Nothing feels timely right now except pandemics and viruses” Simmons admits. “But it wasn’t so long ago that extremism was in the news. The film still asks questions about how far people can go on the spectrum of atheism and religious belief, who’s pulling the strings and how similar the people on either side of the spectrum are.”
Say Your Prayers will be released on video on demand platforms (Virgin Media, Sky Store, Apple/ iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Rakuten) on 28 September 2020.