Most lads as they approach puberty, with its attendant biochemical cocktail of surging hormones, tend to turn into veritable sexual dowsing rods. Or, to put it less metaphorically, they become slathering horndogs, ogling and fixating on any female creature with two legs and breasts.
Not necessarily in that order.
Such single-minded obsession also drives young Taliesin Jones (John Paul MacLeod). Except that in his case, after watching his piano teacher and part-time faith healer Billy Evans (the late Ian Bannen) heal an elderly neighbor by laying on his hands, Taliesin becomes consumed not so much with his female classmates as he does with the power of prayer. Indeed, like any typical impressionable youngster, the instantly smitten Tally transforms into a walking raw nerve of spiritual questioning, fascinated with miracle working and challenging the beliefs or lack thereof of those around him.
Although to some extent this concerns Tally’s largely agnostic father(Jonathan Pryce), the simple farmer is more distracted by the struggle to accept the unexpected departure of his wife (Geraldine James) for the excitement of the big city. Tally’s older brother Jonathan (Matthew Rhys), though also exasperated by his sibling’s newfound evangelism, perhaps understands that its very newness is what makes the infatuation so intense.
Yet when Tally and the members of his secret school club “The Believers” attempt to heal a classmate through prayer and get him off his insulin, the resulting fallout in the community tests the youngster’s newfound faith…but not as much as the illness which befalls his friend and mentor Billy.
It’s hard to imagine a film like “The Testimony of Taliesin Jones” being made here in the States. With zealots on the religious right testing and/or violating our (thankfully) rigid strictures regarding church and state separation on a daily basis, passions on such complex, highly personal matters as religious beliefs and spirituality become too easily inflamed, manipulated, and encapsulated into soundbites. Thus, it was oddly refreshing to see a film such as this one deal with religion so openly, intelligently, and non-exploitatively. Conversely, this obviously isn’t a film for hard-core atheists, as obnoxious in their own way as their evangelical counterparts, who will squirm at the mere mention of the dreaded “G Word.”
MacLeod carries this film well on his slight shoulders, bolstered by the beauty of the English countryside and reinforced by seasoned pros Pryce and Bannen. Like an English brook, “Testimony…” does tend to meander from time to time, sometimes getting lost in the subplot of Tally’s parents’ failing marriage.
Adapted from the novel by Rhidian Brook and the winner of this year’s Austin Film Festival, “The Testimony of Taliesin Jones” reflects its young protagonist’s state of mind. Far from spewing the fire and brimstone propaganda of the newly indoctrinated, this calmly affirming film explores one of life’s universal mysteries with the reasonable air left behind after the first blush of infatuation has passed.