THE VICAR OF DIBLEY (1994)
In the beginning...
Richard Curtis had created a work of comedic genius in Blackadder, along with Ben Elton (in his pre Rock You and novel days). Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders had broken new ground as an alt comedy (see how much trendier it sounds with just an alt.?) female double act. And lo, it was good.
Then someone must have thought, 'How about we get together a stellar cast - importing actors from Four Weddings, Only Fools, Brush Strokes, I Didn't Know You Cared and a bloke who worked with Spike Milligan?' Add in Dawn French as an in-yer-face vicar with two competing passions - Jesus and Crunchies - and away we go. In short, this sitcom has more pedigree than a dog food factory.
As a comedy of manners, it seems to run a familiar track. The quirky woman with a twinkle in her eye kicks over the traces and wins the hearts and minds of everyone, including the frosty traditionalist. However, before you skip to the punchline - which I'll now have to think about concocting, The V of D has a lot more going for it. To start with, the titular and fictional village of Dibley is unusual in that the post of village idiot has been filled many times over. Hugo is the bumbling idiot; Letitia is the culinary idiot; Frank the boring and closeted gay idiot; Owen the sex-starved - and possibly bestial - idiot; Alice the lovable and scatter-brained idiot (arguably, the idiot's idiot); Jim, the at times incomprehensible idiot; and finally, David, who's an idiot for putting up with everyone else. You could say it's a parallel universe version of Snow White and the Seven Geniuses, and in this universe the epicentre is the church hall, where, as is traditional with committee meetings, it takes hours to discuss the minutes. With a cast this large - rarely seen outside of a Perry / Croft outing, the characters are able to hold their own without the presence of the 'star'.
Dawn French's turn, as the Rev Geraldine Grainger, is not a typically right on vicar. She smokes, she drinks, she swears and she shags David's brother for a bit (pardon the pun). She is full of frailties and the odd crisis of faith, making her more like Joanna Bloggs and less like a latter-day Thora Hird. She needs the village idiots as much as they need her. The show boasts an impressive array of celeb guests, including Mike Yarwood (who would arguably count as several on his own), and covers a surprising range of topics outside the churchy stuff - death, loss, unrequited love, and the delightful will-they-ever plotline of 'When Hugo Met Alice'. I suppose I should also mention, begrudgingly, the neat, and for my money, somewhat contrived romantic ending for the good Rev herself, but hey, maybe I'm just a hardened cynic.
At the end of each programme, the Rev and her sidekick Alice close with a two-hander sketch, and, as the titles run, Psalm 23 wraps you in warm-hearted goodliness - what's not to like? And it was good. Amen.
Review: : Derek Thompson May 2014
for Television Heaven