‘Rev’ Retrospective – Tom Hollander’s underrated clerical sitcom remains essential viewing

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Rev, written by and starring Tom Hollander (Bohemian Rhapsody, Gosford Park), turns the tender age of ten this year, so it seems an appropriate time to give the critically adored but under-seen gem a reappraisal. Focusing on down-on-his-luck vicar Adam Smallbone, who has moved from sleepy Suffolk to a struggling clergy in Hackney, and a core cast of larger-than-life characters, Rev deals with a crisis of faith and the struggles often facing small communities.

The series received high praise from some of the biggest newspapers, with The Times commenting that it was one of the funniest, most honest and most moving programmes of the past 10 years. In addition to strong reviews, the show was also an awards favourite, winning Best Scripted Comedy at the 2011 BAFTAs. Given the degree of critical love the show received, it has remained a mystery to me that more viewers haven’t embraced the Parish of St Saviours in ways they have other BBC comedies. For my money, it is one of the BBC’s best kept secrets of the past 10 years and one of its funniest, and most powerful, shows.

In many ways one of the most striking things about rewatching the show is that it has aged immaculately, and there is little to indicate that it wasn’t released more recently. It makes superb use of its on location shots of Shoreditch, Hackney and Old Street, both pre and post the 2012 Olympics. The use of its East London setting gives the Parish and local area a lived-in feel and a different side to London than has been seen in other BBC productions.  

“For my money, it is one of the BBC’s best kept secrets of the past 10 years and one of its funniest, and most powerful, shows.”

The cast are absolutely tremendous, with Tom Hollander an obvious standout both in front of camera and on script duty – that brilliantly pokes fun at everyday trivialities that face those who work in the church and attend. His timing is immaculate and he is able to walk an ever-so fine-line between comedy and drama, managing to juggle the two genres perfectly.

Supporting Hollander is now-Oscar winner Olivia Colman, who is stellar (though underused) as Adam’s long-suffering wife Alex, but the pick of the bunch has to be the fantastic Simon McBurney as the slimey Archdeacon, and Steve Evets as Colin – a local homeless member of Adam’s congregation. Colin is a constant supply of gross jokes and sight gags, in contrast to the sombre nature of much of the congregation, especially the Archdeacon. In addition to the core cast there are a smattering of guest stars; particular highlights include Hugh Bonneville as Adam’s rival, the high flying Roland Wise, and Ralph Fiennes as the Bishop of London.

One of the great successes of Rev is the way it’s able to poke fun at the inner workings of the Church; it is an insight into both the struggles facing small parish communities and the absurdity of it as well. It really shines a light onto religious differences, as Adam comes into contact with rivals from other sections of Christianity and other religions, but the series never undermines them.

Though Tom Hollander hasn’t closed the door for good, we may never see a fourth series of Rev, but it remains a comedy classic and one of the finest shows the BBC has produced in recent years – including an eclectic mix of characters, a sharp script, and some brilliant performances across the board. Hopefully more viewers will stumble across this hidden gem in years to come.

Words by Chris Connor

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