I grew up in the Church of England, attended a local CofE School, became a Chalice assistant (that’s the one who holds the shiny goblet with wine in it up the front) and now, alongside helping out the Festival Team, I am also a Parish Administrator. I seriously cannot escape the Church of England…
So, one thing I love, having seen the ins-and-outs of the Church from a young age, is that someone from outside the Church has come in, had a look round, and summed it up perfectly: the ups, downs and general weirdness of a Vicar’s life and the people that surround them. Having your thoughts wander in prayers, offering people food & drink rather than the cold hard cash they are asking for, being constantly skint even though the rest of the world says you’re rolling in it, having all your congregation see you as this perfect being, but having faults the same as everyone else.
Now, it doesn’t sum up every individual church perfectly (some are FAR more middle class dahling…), but it’s pretty close. My Church, being near 2 very-hard-to-get-into CofE schools, is especially susceptible to ‘migrant’ child attendees who suddenly emerge around September each year, then disappear once their parents have the letter from the Vicar – I even overheard a child from the congregation once say, “You only have to go to church until you get into a good school”. Never has “On your knees, Forget the fees” been more obvious... My family and I watched that first episode in a weird comedy-horror state, as Tom Hollander seemed to have hit that particular nail on the head and could say it to the world, knowing that he wouldn’t have to go to Church the next Sunday and face the evil stares of the rest of the congregation.
That’s part of the key to Hollander’s success: he isn’t held back by the over-politeness of Churchgoers. We all have to be nice & happy all the time and all get along perfectly, because that’s what good British Christians do – isn’t it? Well, no. Sometimes stuff is so pants that something needs to be said – or alternatively, explained in a well-written sitcom with a sweary Vicar. So many times watching Rev. I find myself agreeing with nearly everything – except possibly the drug-taking – and find it so refreshing that a ‘real’ view of the Church is being made to the public. Yes, there are some crazy people, some ridiculously posh people and some people with prejudices from the dark ages, but there are also a lot of generally nice people too.
Rev. is just such a brilliantly written comedy too; so many issues are brought up in this program that could easily make it a hard-hitting drama, but they are dealt with so well and with such care for the characters involved that it’s not downhearted. Yes, you were angry when you found out the Archdeacon didn’t become Bishop because of his ‘friend’, but when Rev. Smallbone comforts him, you can’t help but “aww” (or in my sister’s case, cry your eyes out) and feel a little better about the world. It also doesn’t alienate those who don’t go to Church – someone who only has the vaguest idea of what the Church is and does can still enjoy the plainly brilliant humour on display: you don’t have to be ‘in with the gang’ to enjoy the antics of the clergy and congregation of St Saviour in the Marshes.
Basically, I love this show. Also my mum loves Tom Hollander and wants to adopt him. I don’t blame her – if he was a real Vicar, I’d happily make the journey over to East London on Sundays, especially if I got to see him off his face, doing his less-than-pc impression of a leper – now THAT is an exciting service! Although, I would be slightly worried if Lord Voldemort was the actual Bishop of London…
Ellen Richardson - Festival helper & YouTuber