Netflix UK film review: Come Sunday
James R | On 22, Jan 2022
Director: Joshua Marston
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, LaKeith Stanfield, Jason Segel, Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Condola Rashad
“I can’t save the whole world.” Those are the words of Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a bishop in the Pentecostal Church who loves preaching to a packed hall every Sunday. He’s charismatic and compelling to watch in action, as he seamlessly moves from the pulpit to the congregation and back, cueing the choir with a confident grin. But Come Sunday is far from a stereotypical portrait of a Pentecostal preacher, and while we get a glimpse of his thundering speeches in full flow, we ultimately spend more time with him in private – where his ego threatens to topple his ministry team into discord.
It turns out to be something else entirely, though, that causes chaos among Carlton’s flock. Weighed down by the thought of all the people in the world who would go to Hell if not saved, Carlton finds himself reinterpreting the Bible in a new way – why would God want anyone to be punished for eternity? What if Hell didn’t exist and everyone was saved in the end, regardless of what they’ve done?
That theology, called universal reconciliation, is not a new idea, but it’s certainly one incompatible with what’s taught by his Church – and the more they question his inspiration behind his philosophical shift, the more he doubles down on the idea, convinced that God has led him to this viewpoint. The more he preaches this revision of his previous sermons, the more his congregation walk out of his services, and the more his colleagues label him a heretic.
What sounds like a clear-cut situation, though, is far from it, and Come Sunday excels in the way it resists the temptation to paint things simply – not one of the orthodox figures are presented as enemies or villains, with Jason Segel bringing a heartfelt conflict to Carlton’s friend, Henry, who is also a preacher. Equally concerned is Martin Sheen as televangelist Oral Roberts, who still thinks of Carlton as his pseudo-son. Neither can condone what Carlton is teaching, but both hold open the door to reconciliation in the hope that they can end up on the same side of the altar again – just as Condola Rashad plays Carlton’s wife with a mix of marital loyalty and religious doubt. Best of all is LaKeith Stanfield as an organist who has his own reasons for thinking his soul might be doomed.
“Just because there’s no Hell that doesn’t you can sin,” Carlton tells him, and that level of nuance, from friend to friend, from pastor to sheep, runs throughout Marcus Hinchey’s script. Director Joshua Marston not only draws out subtle turns from his ensemble cast but also gives Chiwetel Ejiofor the space to shine, as he sinks his teeth into a rare and deserved leading role. Building up to a showdown with the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops, the result is a rare film that treats faith seriously. It’s a muted but absorbing study of professional duty, personal confusion and spiritual redemption – and a moving portrait of understanding and forgiveness, as Carlton finds his way through a difficult maze to a position of hope. Inspired by his real life story, this is no hagiography – and that makes this drama worth saving a couple of hours for.