Tuesday, 6 July 2010

TV Review: Identity, The Rev

ITV saw a new crime series "Identity", starring Keeley Hawes as DSI Martha Lawson in what appears to be a cross between "Spooks" and "Waking the Dead". This week saw an identity thief who decided to destroy anyone's life he came across where they were betraying a wife or husband. He did this by stealing their identity, committing crimes and planting evidence to frame them. It was quite a sharp and clever episode, but one wonders quite how many twists and turns there can be in plots revolving around identity theft.

Keeley Hawes was the nominal head of the particular outfit, but the episode did not really develop her character much. Instead it was DI John Bloom, played by Aidan Gillen, who took much more of a starring role. He had a strange maverick and charismatic character. Holly Aird turned up as a police force IT expert, adding to the feeling that this was akin to "Waking the
Dead", in which she played a police force pathologist expert. It is early days, but it looks promising.

BBC 2 had on Mondays at 10 pm, The Rev, which stars Tom Hollander as a vicar in a rundown east London parish. He is the Rev Adam Smallbone, the new vicar of St Saviour in the Marshes. Alongside him is Olivia Colman as Alex Smallbone, his wife who is a solicitor, with a penchant for sexual fantasies to spice up their humdrum marriage (the Rev's fantasy is just being with his
wife in bed, and as she points out, they do that, it's not a fantasy). Simon McBurney also stars as the slightly scary Archdeacon Robert - getting a good impression of what Jools Holland might be like if he wore a dog collar, and with a degree of headmasterish authority that the Dean had in All Gas and Gaiters.

This episode centred around a conflict between the Rev and an evangelistic vicar from the nearby church who came to the Revs with his congregation while theirs was being refurbished. The other vicar had a large congregation of hundreds where is the Rev barely managed twenty, and just to emphasize the contrast was around 6 ft 6 in to the Rev's 5 ft 6. The musical style was
different - very large sound system, a rapper leading the congregation along with the charismatic vicar, who as the Rev's wife astutely pointed out, was giving a performance, not a service. It was a show, not worship.

Yet despite the disparity, it was the Rev who shone, because when it came to the crunch, he would not exclude anyone from his congregation, where the other vicar was quite intolerant, and would not stand for the gays, down and outs, women priest. Matters came to a head when the other vicar said he would not have one of the Rev's congregation (after he'd pinched one of the ladies in the congregation's bottom), and the Rev said that was where they differed, he would not turn anyone away.

This was the occasion of probably the one quotation of scripture. "How many times should you forgive", said the Rev, quoting Matthew's gospel, "Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." It was both apposite and telling. The archdeacon, despite the loss of earnings for the use of the church by the other minister, backed up the Rev - this was, he said, the way the Church of England was - compassionate, inclusive. They showed love to the unlovable.

Although it is being pitched as a comedy, and even as a sitcom, that I think just illustrates the incapacity of the TV reviewers to pigeon hole this programme. It takes a wry, sometimes amusing, sometimes sad, look at the life of this Vicar, and it portrays him and his congregation very truthfully. It's more akin to a series of short stories, half and hour long, in which we see snapshots from the life of this man and those around him. Unlike Roald Dahl, there are no sudden twists at the end, but like Somerset Maugham, there is always something at the end, some summing up, some dénouement which forms a fitting climax to the episode. Radio knows the short story well, but apart from Alan Bennett's Talking Heads - which traversed the same ground, but as monologues - Television does not really know this genre well.

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