Rev, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews
Rev, BBC Two
Rev, BBC Two
Expect converts as a new pulpitcom begins its ministry
It doesn’t often happen that a new sitcom is born perfectly formed. The Royle Family, it was instantly clear, would do no wrong. And there was nothing much the matter with those things by Ricky Gervais. (I'd also make a case for The IT Crowd.) But maybe Rev has a harder trick to pull off. Unlike comedies which achieve their effects by formal daring, Rev operates within narrower strictures. It is in all essential respects a deeply traditional sitcom. It’s about a vicar, for goodness’ sake, who since Moses came down from the mountain has been more or less the ideal sitcom protagonist, being very nice, very put-upon, a shepherd of men whose decency is thwarted from all sides by the forces of mayhem and worse. The whole thing is enough to restore your faith.
Unlike previous cassocked comedies, this one has its feet planted in the real world of the graffiti-spattered inner city. No one in this vicar’s flock reads the Daily Mail and trims herbaceous borders. The archdeacon (Simon McBurney) is a bean-counting, taxi-riding Thatcherite with a sinister penchant for black leather gauntlets who gets asked to Chris Hitchens’s launches. His curate (Miles Jupp) knows Joshua, Judges and Ruth backwards but is light on humanity skills. And his solicitor wife (Olivia Colman) can never get a decent shag out of him. When he flops into bed with his dog collar still wrapped round his Adam's apple, she complains “it’s like you’ve got no cock”.
And it certainly sounds that way. As names go, Adam Smallbone is part biblical, part biological. He is played by Tom Hollander with an ineffable sweetness that is entirely enchanting. Yes, he seeps wetness like a identikit Anglican padre. His fear of causing offence twists him up in Gordian knots. He is the modern C of E incarnate, a castrato hopping across a minefield. For much of the time he surely loathes the fact that his most loyal parishioner is Colin, a homeless petty criminal and addict (portrayed with much affection by Steve Evets, pictured).
But on the human side, Adam likes a fag and a booze-up and is not above fancying, in the nicest possible way, the arse off the local Anglican school’s headmistress (Lucy Liemann) - not that she’s having any of it. Furthermore, somewhere inside that emasculating frock is a surprisingly stiff backbone. In last night’s episode, a congregation normally confined to a sprinkling of wackos and loners was suddenly flooded with converts, all genuflecting before the latest Ofsted report. Like St Peter at the pearly gates, it was in Adam’s gift to let the irreligious slip in if deemed expedient, such as when the church’s stained-glass window needs 30 grand’s worth of fixing. He was all set to do a deal with his conscience but at the 11th hour God spake and Adam told the brash local MP (Alexander Armstrong), who showed up in church brandishing a latte and a trilling Blackberry, where to stick his major cash donation.
But Adam's sermon hadn’t finished there. In this opening episode he piously removed his whiter-than-white neck appendage in order to confront three moronic builders on a scaffold barracking him (and by extension all wishy-washy believers). “Why don’t you just fuck off?” That piped them down. This is the kind of vicar who speaks your language. The script by James Wood (from an idea by Hollander) is playful but also meaningful, full of filigree detail and broad-church brushwork. The whole thing is also shot with discreet finesse by the director of The Full Monty, Peter Cattaneo. Rev is going to be a lot of good unclean fun.
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