The Guardian’s Take on Clergy on TV: Not Just “Thugs or Idiots” | Editorial


The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, complained in a speech about the injustice of the televised performances of the clergy. “They are described as thugs or idiots,” he said. “The reality is very different – these are actually normal people who work hard, care deeply about what they do, and work every hour to get it done.”

It is true that Jane Austen’s Mr Collins – whose ridiculously pompous letters provide endless entertainment in Pride and Prejudice – has cast a long fictitious shadow. The Anglican clergy portrayed onscreen have often been, undeniably, amusing (extremely benign) figures, whether they be Dawn French’s Vicar of Dibley or Rowan Atkinson. nervous and inept priest in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Paul Chahidi’s vicar in the sublime mock documentary This Country was a kind, well-meaning liberal around whom the anarchic Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe were circling. And Tom Hollander, who gave viewers a pleasantly absurd Mr. Collins in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, also played the protagonist in Rev, the sitcom that took place between 2010 and 2014. But his character in the latter show was neither a thug nor an idiot – indeed, he was both sympathetic and heroic in his own way as he battled the indignities and hardships of working in a parish in central London. (It is true that the silky and sinister Archdeacon of Simon McBurney in the same series was indeed a thug, apparently a descendant of the obnoxious Obadiah Slope as portrayed by Alan Rickman in the 1982 BBC adaptation of the novels. Anthony Trollope’s Barchester.)

Perhaps the Archbishop is a little jealous of the recent treatment of the Roman Catholic clergy. Andrew Scott’s character in Fleabag was not just a “sexy priest,” but a way for Phoebe Waller-Bridge protagonist to explore his moral uncertainties and millennial anxiety; the character of the priest functioned dramatically because of the glamor of the absolute represented by Catholicism. Transubstantiation, confession and absolution, papal infallibility and celibacy are all fascinating areas to explore against the relativism of the modern secular world.

Behind this portrayal hides a great tradition of 20th century British Catholic fiction by authors such as Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark, whose work was inspired by a sense of exclusion from the mainstream. of the established church. It’s hard to imagine a modern portrayal of Anglican clergy as complex as Greene’s morally tortured “whiskey priest” in The Power and the Glory, and – despite Granchester’s pleasant novels and television series – no C of E vicar too. sagacious that a crime detector Father Brown of GK Chesterton.

Brilliant fictional depictions of the Anglican clergy in the days of Trollope, Eliot and Dickens were inspired by a strong sense of satire, but satire is a way to bring the powerful on earth and Anglican clergy today – in a time of shrinking and aging congregations – are not very responsive to this kind of treatment. If Mr. Welby’s characterization of television vicars is correct (although Rev’s example, in fact, suggests that it is somewhat irrelevant), then he must accept that the bland, benign, and bland Anglican clergy The small screen’s awkwardness reflects the popular view of the church itself.

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