Last night saw the debut of BBC2’s new comedy drama ‘Rev’ with Tom Hollander. Tom plays Rev Adam Smallbone, a new Vicar in an inner-city parish, with a standard array of peculiar characters orbiting Hollander’s star. In rev-iewing it now (oho, see what I did there?), I guess I give it a cautious thumbs-up. 6.5 to 7 out of 10.
To deal with the criticisms first, it kind of annoyed me that they had to start the series off by him waking up with a hangover, then proceeding to swear regularly and smoke at every opportunity. It’s too easy and too fatuous a laugh to portray the sort of Father Jack (from Father Ted) school of priesthood, burnt-out and only able to smoke, drink and swear. On another level, however, I am not sure if my annoyance is with the programme or with my fellow clergy who I know behave just like that. Long before Rev Smallbone was seen on my screen, I’ve felt my hackles rising at the clergy who sneak out the back for a ciggie at events I’ve attended. So maybe it was just well researched.
Don’t get me wrong, conscious of planks and splinters in eyes and all that, I know that I come home from meetings occasionally and proceed to swear like a trooper. Indeed, I’ve come home and poured myself a generous glass of single malt on more than one occasion. I have plenty of other vices that I prefer not to broadcast on the Internet. Clergy are human after all and Tom Hollander’s Rev was portrayed as human as the rest of us. However, at heart, I know too that the Christian message transforms lives and it was pretty clear (from the praying in the episode of which more in a minute) that Rev Smallbone had a relationship with God and a clear sense of calling to the broken-hearted and the lost which all forms part of that Christian message of transformation as well.
Of course, we all swear from time to time and, of course, we all feel like we need a drink from time to time as well. However, at the same time, I would hope and pray that clergy everywhere were on some level seeking a process of personal transformation and holiness as well if we are to hold out the Christian message of transformation and hope with any integrity.
It’s a funny business really. On one level, smoking and drinking is small-fry and a distraction when it comes to living a holy life. Some Christians, I know, get incredibly hung up on such things and I really don’t want to be like that. It seems to me that living with justice and mercy and love and hope and integrity are far more important to God than whether I happen to have an addiction to nicotine. On another level though, it does matter and it annoyed me that they had to portray Adam Smallbone that way.
However, on the upside, there was a great deal to be positive about in the programme. The incidents were all brilliantly observed and as has been noted on a number of blogs in the aftermath of episode one, most clergy watching would be able to relate entirely. I know I’m fairly new to this priestly business, but the discussions and incidents all felt very close to home and I’m sure most clergy have all been there to some degree or another. It gives me great hope for the rest of the series that this is not going to be Dibley, but a genuine (if comedic) look at what it’s like to be a clergyman in England in the twenty-first century.
Hollander says of the programme in an interview with the Scotsman: “In a very modest way, it is pro the church and pro this vicar. I emerged from this show with a great deal of respect for vicars. They put up with a lot and do really good work for people having a bad time.” I’m glad he’s felt able to say that, to come through his research process with a respect for what is done in God’s name by clergy, and it gives me hope too that the clergy are not just going to end up as the butt of every joke every week.
Perhaps the best moment of the first episode, a moment of pure brilliance, that even brought a tear to my eye was when Rev Adam prayed. Apparently, in each episode, we’ll get a moment of this inner monologue where we hear Adam pray and, if so, that’s a stroke of genius. It moved me because it was genuine and I have certainly prayed prayers like the one he prayed. To paraphrase, he said something like: ‘You called me to help the lost and the broken-hearted, and all that I can focus on at the moment is this flipping window’ and it feels like that often. Every clergyman has one of those ‘windows’, whatever it might actually be in their situation and it was both poignant and moving as Rev Adam struggled for a sense of the divine and his genuine call in amongst the mess of everyday life. Quite moving.
I’ve set-up a Series link on the Sky+ box and I’ll be watching the rest of the series for sure. Just a shame it’s only six episodes. If you missed it, go watch it on iPlayer now while you still can.