Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Comedy drama
Availability: TVNZ on demand, ABC iview, Prime Video
Plot: The parish of St Saviour in the Marshes has a new vicar, the Reverend Adam Smallbone. He and his wife, Alex, a legal aid solicitor, have moved to inner-city East London from a rural parish. It’s clear from the beginning that things are not going to be easy. Responsible for an elegant but leaking sixteenth century church and a motley group of parishioners, moral and ecclesiastical dilemmas come thick and fast. Not only does Adam have to deal with a variety of local reprobates, the Archdeacon is putting pressure on him to save the church from financial ruin. While ultimately good intentioned and certainly determined to prevent the closure of the church, Adam’s constant missteps create more problems than he solves. While his faith remains strong, he is beset by failure, and then scandal and humiliation, which makes him question whether he is ultimately right for the ministry.
Filming and Setting: The church scenes were filmed in St Leonard’s, an ancient parish church in Shoreditch, East London. The first episode centres on the church’s glorious stained glass window that has been vandalised, adding to the church’s mounting financial troubles. The deprived inner city environment of St Saviour is grimly captured, rubbish everywhere, and heavy traffic circling the church. While Adam is excited by the challenges of his new role, every scene illustrates just how difficult this is going to be. It’s a quality production.
Cast: Tom Hollander takes the lead as Adam, and Olivia Colman is Alex, Adam’s wife. Both actors are at the top of their game, and it shows. There is a chemistry between them that also helps us to better understand how such an intelligent and vibrant woman can end up falling for such a deeply flawed man like Adam. Of the supporting actors, Miles Jupp is terrific as Nigel, Adam’s lay minister. His thick vein of jealousy provides the opportunity for some great lines that are delivered with wonderful venom. Jimmy Akingbola is seriously disturbing as Mick, who is constantly turning up on the vicarage doorstep looking for money to support his drug habit. Steve Evets is superbly cast as Colin, the recovering drug addict who acts as a foil to Adam. But best of all is Simon McBurney as the acerbic Archdeacon Robert. This multi award-winning actor eloquently steals every scene in which he appears.
Personal Comments: Created for the BBC by Tom Hollander and James Wood, Rev. is a production in three parts. Series 1 and 2 are comedic and, in the way of good comedy, often poignant. Series 3 is different. There are still elements of humour, but there is a discernible shift toward a more serious drama about a man who is losing his way, the nature and impact of transgression, and the question of forgiveness and redemption. I was troubled by some of the messages, particularly when an ex convict seeks solace in the church only to find prejudice and a deeply imbedded hierarchy that positions some transgressors as worthy of forgiveness while others remain unforgiven and shunned. This is reinforced when a joke is made of the penitent sex offender being beaten-up by Colin, the profligate yet self-righteous parishioner. It was a wrong note that might have been better handled. Overall though, despite having one or two reservations, Rev. is a very good production that makes you think about the role of the church in contemporary urban society, and the foibles of the people who do their best to try to make things work. There is also a Christmas special at the end of the second series, so it’s a good time to be watching it right now.