Rev. (Series 3, Episode 1): Present and Engaged


Having had to try to explain Rev. (NB Guardian Style Guide, it does have a vital full stop in title to indicate pedantic outdated abbrev.) in pub to friend who had never seen the programme before today, I decided it was both too complex and too simple to do it justice. Just watch it, was my advice.

The prologue to this first episode in the new series encapsulated this – a bare 60 seconds that delightfully counterpointed in fast cutaway scenes Alex (Olivia Coleman) giving birth in a taxi and destroying the otherwise poised calm of the Archdeacon (Simon McBurney), with the wedding of the headteacher (Lucy Liemann), object of Tom Hollander’s fantasy lust, ending with his trademark desperate run down the streets of East London to be present at the birth.

10 months later, the unbaptised baby Katie is the focus of the congregation’s aspirations and hopes, and the source of delight and tension in Hollander’s well-meaning but ineffective personal Christianity and private life.

The theme of this episode is ostensibly Muslim-Christian difference and cooperation as the series finally nods to the reality of inner city London life. While the writers are confident enough to take down the Christian church and its hierarchies and misguided muddling along (Imam: “You are of course all equal in the eyes of God?”. Rev.: “Yes, but God much prefers the bishops”), the Muslim community seems a touch too one-dimensionally drawn – simply welcoming, successful and humane. On balance though, better that than any other one dimension. That said, the throw away “jihadi BBQ” was a nice line.

The episode introduces some new characters in the Church set up – the Area Dean and the Diocesan Secretary, played with double act comic effect by Joanna Scalan (Thick of It) and Vicki Pepperdine, enthusiastically and frighteningly unable to engage with real people, especially 10 month old babies. Whether these are in fact real roles in the Anglican hierarchy or not, I don’t actually know, and in reality it doesn’t much matter.

With the episode containing enough plot lines to develop, in a series that doesn’t really need plot lines to thrive – the 10 month old child, the new double act, the legal aid job being won by Alex, the headteacher already pissed off with her sub-par husband – we can expect a gradual unfolding of misery and redemption.

Let’s hope that in the coming episodes they remember that, as with the abbrev. in Rev., less is more.

Best things about this first episode:

– For all the “selfies without make up” parade on Twitter, Olivia Coleman rumpled at 2am in the morning bottlefeeding a realistically noisy 10 month old takes some beating.

– As ever, Colin (Steve Evets) the committed Christian ne’er do-well drunk, has some of the best lines. Early in the morning in the small inner city park by the church, he is sincerely rejoicing in the day: “Isn’t this piece of land great – except for the dog shit and the cans.”

– Colin again: having taken £10 seed money and turned it into £350 for church funds by buying crack, cutting it with washing powder, and reselling: Rev: “So this is drugs money?”. Colin: “No, there was hardly any drugs in what I sold. It’s more like detergent money.”

– Robert, the arch Archdeacon, being left stranded by the new church leaders as they size up Tom Hollander in their cab – actually an in-joke for the Rev. faithful who have watched him repeatedly dump Tom Hollander out of taxis around East London in series one and two.

Missing in action:

– Nigel the curate (Miles Jupp) – limited to barely a line and one glance of retribution. But his time will come;

– Worshipper Adoha (Ellen Thomas) – normally a whirlwind presence, but squeezed out by new characters;

– Moments of calm: perhaps to be expected in the first of a new series, but some of the best scenes in the first two series were Tom Hollander beleaguredly contemplating the vagaries of an apparently absent God.

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