It all started in 2003 when Martin Sheen was back in his ancestral Irish home of Borrisokane. The Hollywood icon (and TV legend, if you're a West Winger) was in town celebrating the 100th anniversary of his mother (Tipperary born Mary-Anne Fieland)'s birth with his entire clan. It wasn't unusual for the star to be handed scripts or storylines but he became intrigued when a local chap handed him a memoir, chronicling the fortunes of a local parish priest and major film buff who was instrumental in opening the first cinema in North Tipperary during the 1950s.

Sheen took a shine (no pun intended) to this story of a good man who found himself pitted against those of the local community who considered a picture house to be a first step in the village's inexorable descent towards Babylon. Seven years later, Sheen was again in Borrisokane, this time in the role of Father Daniel Barry, a man who had spent most of his vocation in Rome but now found himself in a little village in Ireland, with one eye on Rome and the other on the latest Hollywood releases.

As you would expect from his CV, his background and his reputation, Sheen is perfect casting for this role, whether he's locking horns with local politico Stephen Rea - the self-professed arbiter of all things moral - or encouraging forward-thinking young teacher Trystan Gravelle to follow his dreams. A strong cast includes Amy Huberman, Marcella Plunkett (excellent here as the landlady to whom young Trystan takes a shine) and scene-stealing Tom Hickey as the domineering bishop whose dreams of building a shiny new church (courtesy of ''a countryman's love of concrete") don't quite mirror Martin Sheen's ambition to introduce a slice of Hollywood into the rural landscape.

While much of Thaddeus O'Sullivan's film is taken up with personalities and their personal battles, it's all set against the backdrop of a changing Ireland, represented here by the growing conflict between church and state, and the advent of rural electrification.

Stella Days is a small drama which can be a tad sentimental at times, but it's lifted by some sterling performances, John Christian Rosenlund's cinematography and Anna Rackard's sepia-toned production design.

Michael Doherty