Nuns On The Run

Posted on 14. Aug, 2013 by in Nuns, Pre-Vatican II Catholicism, Priests

Nuns on the Run is yet another Catholic movie which depends on the theme of people who are not considered religious masquerading as members of a religious order in order to escape criminal penalties and/or being pursued by criminals from the secular world. In this instance, there is a twist not seen in some other Catholic movies using this theme: the two fugitives utilizing religious clothing and Catholic congregations and institutions to serve their own purposes are, in this instance, men, who disguise themselves as nuns, female members of Catholic religious orders.
The nuns in their church/chapel from "Nuns On The Run"
Nuns On The Run depends for laughs upon the sticky situations that arise when both deceptions (non-religious and possibly non-Catholic individuals disguising themselves as Catholic religious in traditional habits, and men disguising themselves as female religious).
The movie starts out with Brian Hope (Eric Idle) and Charlie McManus (Robbie Coltrane) eating lunch together in a working-class restaurant, complaining about their respective jobs much like the working stiffs they initially appear to be.
It is through the initial dialogue concerning their respective meals that it is established that Brian is not Catholic while Charlie, at least, has been brought up Catholic.

Brian Hope: I thought you were supposed to be eating fish on a Friday.
Charlie McManus: No, you’re way out of date. Vatican II said we don’t have to do that anymore.
Brian Hope: Who’s “Vatican II”? The deputy pope?
Charlie McManus: Ignoramus. You can’t have a deputy pope. The pope’s infallible; you can’t be deputy-infallible!

However, this scene also marks the first time it is demonstrated in this picture that appearances are deceiving. The two are really bank robbers working for a higher-level gangster who has recently started making their working lives more uncomfortable by expecting them to be involved in more violent and dangerous crimes, whereupon they complain that their previous criminal activity was merely larcenous. Described as “gangsters”, they are not mafia-affiliated, nor are they youthful offenders, but rather middle-aged individuals in a “robbery gang”. They are seen engaging in a bank robbery in which they are unpleasantly surprised that one of their cohorts had brought a gun, for which Brian refers to him as a “homicidal pillock”. (There may be some truth to this idea, as it was said that there had for a long time been a tacit agreement between the London “bobbies” and England’s criminal element that deadly force was not to be used, resulting in the fact that the police in England did not regularly carry guns, at least up until the early 1990s.)
In any case, when they return to gang headquarters, they find out that an associate of theirs also wants “out”, and had told the higher-ups that they did as well. He later ends up dead, and it is no secret that they might soon share his fate for wanting to quit the robbery gang.
Further, their superiors want them to steal drug money from a Triad gang, which they regard as more risky than their previous criminal activity (the triads carry weapons, mostly knives, and they never forget a face.)
That is when they hatch the plan to steal the Triads’ large quantity of loose cash for themselves, and start life anew, without the gang boss, for which they would have to leave the country. For whatever reason, they plan to bug out for Brazil, if only for the sake of fulfilling the stereotype of Anglophone fugitives with large amounts of cash fleeing for South America.
In the middle of all this, Brian meets a woman with whom he ends up falling in love. Faith Thomas is a part-time cocktail waitress/part-time sleep study participant who seems on the surface to fulfill the stereotype of the “ditzy blonde”. She tells him she is trying to earn money for college, where she aspires to become a psychology student. He tells her that he is an “entrepreneur”, but she later discovers that he is really a gangster, after having overheard a plot by other members of the gang to murder both him and Charlie, after the two help the gang in one last armed robbery, the idea being for the gang to use them and discard them “like Kleenex”.
Faith informs Brian of the plot, and he informs her of his plan to leave the country, and tries to dissuade her from pursuing him and the relationship by telling her that he’s married. In spite of trying to break it off with her in this fashion, and even going so far as to tell her he doesn’t love her, his heart is no longer in Charlie’s plan to leave. Faith lives up to her name and not only continues her devotion to him, but also has faith that he has the potential to change and become something better than a gangster.
Having stolen 2 suitcases of cash by sticking up their bosses and the Triad members, a shoot-out ensues in an area in which there is clearly seen a street sign saying “Priory Avenue”. In the course of the shoot-out, Brian and Charlie run into a large building with an open door, not knowing that the building is a convent, until they see a nun pass by in a distant hallway.
Miraculously avoiding detection by the other nuns they see in various places within the building, they descend to a cavernous, multi-room basement, which has as many strategic alcoves and open arched doorways as the level above. They pass an older nun doing laundry, and yet again, they escape detection. In the third miracle of the picture, by my count, they find a division of the basement in which a selection of old-style nun’s habits are stored, find ensembles that fit them, and in spite of being non-religious heterosexual men unacquainted with womens’ clothing in general, and nuns’ gear in particular, they correctly assemble the wimples, veils, etc., to appear in front of the genuine nuns as properly, if archaically, -dressed nuns.
They bluff their way into open acceptance by the convent community, by saying that their visit from another convent had been planned in advance, claiming that the letter of introduction and other documentation had been lost or failed to arrive (possible, given the bureaucratic nature of the Catholic Church, and the fallible nature of the postal service). Due to his Catholic background, Charlie makes up some proper nun names for them to tell the Mother Superior. It is after his talk with the Reverend Mother that Charlie explains to Brian that the names “Sister Inviolata” and “Euphemia of the Five Wounds”, although they sounded strange to his non-Catholic ears, were “kosher”, as Charlie’s aunt was a nun, and knew other nuns who bore those names.
Eric Idle & Robert Coltrane masquerade as nuns to hide from vengeful Triad gangsters and their own gang members, as well as the law.
A “Father Seamus” is introduced, concerning whom one of the genuine nuns says “he can’t keep his hands to himself”. The actor playing this particular priest is not seen to engage in any improper conduct, or get anywhere near breaking his vow of celibacy on screen. He is essentially a straight man for a number of hints concerning improper sexual behavior.
However, they are not the only outsiders who attempt to penetrate the convent. Faith, having been a witness and a wounded bystander to the shoot-out, last saw the object of her affection run into or towards the convent. But she has an entree they did not: besides the fact that she is a woman, she is also (previously unknown to Brian), a practicing Catholic. She claims to be interested in enrolling in the teacher-training college run by the convent in order to better have a look around. In the process, she and Brian are thus enabled to meet on several occasions, albeit, during many of these occasions, she is unaware of his true identity, due to the fact that he is in nun’s garb at times when she is without her glasses, and on one occasion, when she speaks of her intention to go to Confession, he hides in the Confessional on the priest’s side. Though Charlie had informed him that Faith’s discussion of their situation in the context of Catholic sacramental Confession does not hold the potential to expose them to the law or the Triads, because “priests don’t talk about what they hear” in the confessional, they nevertheless arrange to keep the genuine priest occupied while Brian takes his place in the confessional. However, Brian not being Catholic, he has no idea how to end a Confession correctly. Luckily, in the nick of time, Charlie steps in and (correctly) coaches him in the Formula Of Absolution.
Hope, Brian's love interest, seen in the confessional of the nun's chapel

While they spend increasing amounts of time in the environment of the convent and its attached church/chapel as various factors delay their departure, Charlie tutors Brian in the basics of Catholicism in the irreverent and potentially sacrilegious style of the Monty Python troupe from whence Idle came. At one point, while Charlie as Sr. Inviolata lights candles in the sacred space, he says “this is nice”, expressing contentment with his immersion in a Catholic (familiar to him) environment, which gives Brian, who in this role has a bit of the con man about him, the opportunity to expound upon his more sceptical and cynical view of religion in general and the church in particular.
Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane as Brian Hope and Charlie McManus discuss Catholic theology, as they get thrown into a question and answer session with real young-adult Catholics

A subplot in which a nun with a drinking problem and a string of losing bets on horse racing heads the order’s drug abuse rehabilitation clinic and is discovered to have misused a large sum of money for the afore-mentioned losing bets exposes the imposture to the other nuns. Charlie and Brian end up reclaiming the suitcases of money, and fleeing the convent, with genuine nuns, Triad members, and the local constabulary in pursuit. They enter a hospital where Faith is recuperating from the bullet wound acquired in the shootout. Brian comes clean to Faith concerning both his recent imposture as a nun and the fact that he is really not married, in legitimate business, and contrary to another thing he told her, he really does love her. (Were they to marry, her name might potentially be Faith Hope).
This happy reuniting is marred by the fact that they now have to flee the hospital, as the Triad gangsters have caught up with them.
It is in this situation that a double miracle occurs: in a situation in which armed Triad gangsters seem to have them cornered, a hospital crisis team transporting a defibrillator suddenly crash through and open a formerly locked door, allowing Faith, Charlie, and Brian to escape. In the process, they lose one of the suitcases full of cash, which is found and taken into possession by the genuine nuns, who observe that it is more than sufficient to cover the embarrassing financial shortfall (thus saving face for the order, and potential prosecution for the nun with the drinking/gambling problem) and/or to open “ten drug rehabilitation clinics”. Finally, it is observed by the sisters that since the money is itself drug money, it is more fitting to use it to combat the problem of illegal drugs than to turn it over to the secular authorities to use as they may (drug rehabilitation clinics presumably being lower on their list of priorities than it is the nuns’).

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