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Ashley Jensen as Agatha Raisin image credit Acorn TV

Jensen as Agatha Raisin  (image credit Acorn TV)

It’s not often that I get to conduct an interview from the comfort of my living room, or for that matter, from anywhere at all. But thanks to my friends at Acorn TV, I was afforded the the wonderful opportunity to speak with Ashley Jensen last week. This Scottish actress is probably best known to American audiences for her work in sitcoms like Extras, Ugly Betty or Catastrophe. She’s also lent her voice to many an animated feature and now can add M.C. Beaton’s PR guru-turned-amateur detective, Agatha Raisin to her CV. We had a lively phone chat that touched on the many and varied stages of her career as a working actress.

We began by discussing how Ashley got her start in acting. While she didn’t get much exposure to drama in school, she joined the National Youth Theatre in London when she was a teenager attending over her summer holidays. After that she went to drama school for three years from ages 18 to 21. Once her training was over,  she “basically started at the bottom doing theater – the type of theater where you drive in a little van, put the set up, do the show, you take the set down, you put it in the van and go to the next gig. Like a bunch of traveling minstrels.”

Gradually Ashley moved on to playing tiny parts on television. “I kinda feel as if I’ve really served my acting apprenticeship. People are asking me how it is being at the helm of a show. To me it was far more terrifying going on and doing my one scene or four lines in a long standing show with a lead actor. That was far more scary than being the lead actor in a show.”

When I asked her if she had ever considered another career, she recalled a drawing she made as a young girl for her mother telling her it was a picture of when she would be an actress on television. Ms. Jensen said there was never any doubt in her mind about acting, but she felt she had to be very single-minded about her choice of career.

“I knew I had to make a living out of it because I didn’t have a trust fund somewhere that could subsidize me if I failed at this thing. I absolutely had to earn a living out of it. People talk about success and they kind of deem success as when you become a bit of a household name and, to be completely honest, I felt like I was a success way before that because I was able to pay my own rent in the chosen profession, in the job that I trained to do. I was like ‘I can’t believe that I’m working in theater which is what I always wanted to do and I was able to pay my way’ and so I figure I was a success years ago.”

Ashley’s breakout role was in the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant follow-up sitcom to The Office. In Extras, she played Ricky’s best friend and fellow TV and film extra, Maggie Jacobs. Many famous celebrities from both sides of the pond guest starred on the show as well. One of those A-list actors was Samuel L. Jackson and Ms. Jensen recalled the reaction to the American movie star as he first arrived on set.

“I’d never met anyone from the movies, from the silver screen- so I was already overwhelmed acting alongside Ricky and along walks Samuel L. Jackson and there was this silence on the set. I’ve never heard silence like I heard silence when Samuel L. Jackson walked on the set. And of course Ricky being Ricky just broke it when I think Samuel L. Jackson bent over and tied his shoelace or something and Ricky shouts “He ties his own shoelaces!” and then the atmosphere changed and everyone was fine.”

“I mean these guys all came on and they did such a great job at playing these heightened versions of themselves and they absolutely loved it. I think they loved coming on and almost slumming it on this BBC TV show where the budget isn’t what Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and Samuel L. Jackson are used to.”

 

After her Emmy and BAFTA nominated role in Extras, Ashley took a vacation and found herself on the brink of her next big job playing Betty Suarez’s friend and co-worker Christina McKinney in the Golden Globe award winning sitcom, Ugly Betty.

Ashley-Jensen-in-Ugly-Betty

Jensen with America Ferrrera on Ugly Betty (image courtesy of Silent H, Ventanarosa and Reveille Productions)

 

“I came over literally for a holiday with my husband to do a California road trip and my agent said you may as well see a few people out there and one thing led to the other and before I knew it I was screen testing for various pilots, a couple of which I didn’t get.  Then all of a sudden in rode this little gem of a script and I went ‘This is the one I really want to do!’ This is a story I’d not seen before. It was heightened, it was fun, it was a bit camp and yet it was really honest and dealt with a lot of really human issues. And I thought this is the one I really want to get and, lo and behold, I got it. Of course I signed up for a few years and I moved to America and I lived there for six years.”

Asked to reflect on the differences between working in television in the UK and LA, Ashley cited two main factors.

“LA is an industry based on film making and TV program making so there’s not so much of a struggle with the money aspect of it. So if we need to do overtime to get the shots, we’ll do it. Because occasionally sometimes here (UK) we can be a little compromised because they can’t afford to pay overtime.  And we also have this thing called the weather which can affect our filming. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve done with a hot water bottle strapped to my waist, heat pads sewn into my vest and, of course in LA, you don’t have that plus your food is better over there. The craft services are so much better than ours.”

It’s been said an actor’s voice is his/her instrument and Ms. Jensen has made good use of hers, namely as a narrator and voice-over artist. Some of her animated credits include Arthur Christmas, How to Train Your Dragon and Gnomeo & Juliet. I asked how she liked doing this sort of work and she had a very enthusiastic response.

“I love it! You know you think you’re just standing there saying lines but after a four hour session I’m sweating. I kind of get physically involved in it and you’ve got to really think on your feet and think of different ways of saying the line again and again. Yeah, I really like it. It’s almost like you kind of leave your dignity on the doorstep and you’ve gotta just go for it and think no one’s looking at me, apart from the fact that they are actually filming you so they can see how your face moves. It’s fun. It’s kind of like being a child again doing animated films, just doing silly voices and jumping about and being incredibly uninhibited because there’s no space for being inhibited in any way.”

Ms. Jensen also filled me in that she has begun work on Sherlock Gnomes which is the sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet. I assume she will reprise her role as Nanette the Frog.

 

Next we discussed her stint as narrator of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, a UK reality medical television program which tries to make common medical issues, especially those that are “embarrassing” understood and to debunk myths surrounding them. I wondered if there had been any conditions that Ashley had come across on the show that stood out as being particularly upsetting, perhaps like this one:

“I did watch the VG and sometimes go ‘Oh, no sorry. I totally missed my cue just watching that there’ but I remember when I was pregnant, I could barely get through an episode without crying. It was just like,  ‘Oh that poor man!'”

But aside from the shock value, Ms. Jensen remarked on the show’s impact on its participants and the larger TV audience as well.

“Viewers emailing in and Twittering in, and doing all that twittery thing that I don’t really do, saying that because of your program I went to the doctor and I found out I have this and my life is so much different, in fact my life has been saved. I mean it was a bit ridiculous sometimes with a nice mix of daft problems but then there were some real conditions where you went ‘Wow, that person’s life has been literally changed because of this program’ and that was great.”

Eventually I got around to the Agatha Raisin portion of the conversation. As with any adaptation of a popular book series, there are always going to be adjustments from page to screen.  First we addressed to obvious physical differences between Ashley and Agatha.

Agatha stands out in appearance if not in cookery (image credit Acorn TV)

Agatha makes an impression in Carsely  (image credit Acorn TV)

“I think I’d read one book before the interview and was thinking – this woman’s older than me, she’s got brown hair, she’s chunkier than me, she’s from Birmingham. Why me? I spoke to the author M.C. Beaton and got her seal of approval (despite) the fact that I look different to what she’d originally envisioned. There’s always going to be somebody that’s not going to be comfortable with how we’ve done it and that’s okay. I thought I can’t let this worry me too much, but the author’s good with it and she’s wonderful. And I’ll tell you there’s more than a little bit of Agatha in there, M.C. Beaton. She has her bright pink lipstick and her flamboyant clothes and she also is Scottish. She’s such a character and she’s such a wonderful woman.”

As for how Ashley approached playing Agatha, she admitted it was more about the essence of the woman than the package.

“She wears her makeup, her structured clothes and her perfect hair almost like her armor against the world. And yet underneath, and we got to see that in the show, behind closed doors she’s had a disastrous love life and a very close relationship with a bottle of wine and she’s a terrible cook and she has a wee cat that she just loves and was actually, in a lot of ways, quite lonely and looking for a bit of warmth. And that was quite nice to play. I think it came across on screen quite well in that you got to see little moments of vulnerability that made the character a wee bit more of a three dimensional character rather than she’s just a bitch.”

We touched on Mrs. Raisin’s eensy weensy problem with assimilating fully to her newly adopted home of Carsley. Ashley shared that it was a conscious decision that there was to be lots of boldness and color in Agatha’s look to symbolize how she wasn’t conforming to English country life.

“This was who she was and she wasn’t apologizing for it, but I think ultimately she did want to sort of fit in and be part of what was her childhood dream of living in this lovely little cottage. I think she’d had herself a bit of a troubled background, not that we see too much of that because we just see her now, but I think that’s the backstory of who she was which kind of gives the character a wee bit more depth again.”

As for Agatha’s new hobby since moving to the Cotswolds, Ashley discussed what about her character’s personality and experience makes her a good detective.

“I think her PR skills obviously stand her in good stead and the fact, I think, that she just doesn’t take no for an answer. I think she has got this utter confidence in her own ability to get people to do what she wants whether that may be through manipulation or a little bit of fear and intimidation. She kind of manages to muscle her way into situations where I think maybe the policemen, particularly in our series Bill Wong, wouldn’t be able to get himself into. She can be charming when she wants to and flirty when she wants to. She just makes sure she gets her own way really.”

One of the silent characters of Agatha Raisin is the Cotswolds itself. Ms. Jensen confirmed that the show was shot in and around the region including Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Somerset.

“It was all these shires that are all very close to one another – beautiful little villages that are all sort of nestled in hillsides around this area. It looks so glorious too with the stately homes of which there are many around this area. I mean, it’s so quintessentially English, isn’t it? Hopefully that’s something an American audience can enjoy the charm of. Just looking at that countryside is like a chocolate box. A chocolate box England.”

When it comes to her own retirement in the distant future, I wondered if Ashley would take Agatha’s path or choose another destination.

“Funnily enough I live not far from where we film. I live just outside of Bath in the rolling countryside with bulls and pigs for neighbors. It was a bit of joke really because it’s like ‘Hey I’m living Agatha’s dream!’ Except I have a family – I’ve got a husband and a dog and a child so I’m not quite like Agatha in that way. Yeah, I love it here. It’s just so glorious and it was such a wonderful job because a lot of the locations were very near to where I live and how often does that happen. Not very.”

To end the interview, I engaged Ashley in a conversation about another of her more recent works, the quirky, dystopian film The Lobster which also stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. The story is set in a society where single people are confined to a specially designated hotel and have forty-five days to find suitable mate, or else they are turned into the animal of their choice and released into the wild. I wondered if her character, Biscuit Woman, had an animal in mind when she came to the hotel.

“I think I had it in my head it was a bumblebee. I don’t know why but I think I thought she might want to be a bumblebee. Which would be a ridiculous one because they only last for a few days, don’t they? I don’t think she was the brightest of women, Biscuit Woman.”

After viewing the film, I was most impressed with Ashley’s chameleon-like appearance, and admitted it took me a few scenes to recognize her.

Ashley in all her self-described slump-shouldered, ill-fitting bra glory in The Lobster (image credit Film4)

“The director had said he wanted me to cut my hair for it and I was like ‘No listen, seriously, we don’t need to. I know a style that will be brilliant. I’ll just walk in and I’ll look just exactly what you’re asking for.’ I think he was a bit worried I was going to look too attractive. I said, ‘Yorgos (Lanthimos) believe me, I won’t. I won’t look too attractive.’  I got on the set and I had no makeup on and my hair like that and he quietly went up to the makeup woman and had a little word. She came up to me and said ‘Ashley, Yorgos wants you to put on a little makeup.’ And I looked over at Yorgos and said, ‘I told you, I told you.’ He went, ‘You did, you did.’

With that we had to end our call, but Ms. Jensen concluded by saying she was delighted that Agatha Raisin has reached American shores. If you want to check out her performance along with other cast members Katy Wix, Jamie Glover and Mathew Horne, the series is currently streaming on Acorn TV. The pilot movie, The Quiche of Death, premiered on Monday, August 1, 2016, and the eight-episode series 1 became available the following week.

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Brenda Blethyn as Vera  image credit Acorn TV

Brenda Blethyn as Vera
image credit Acorn TV

Last week I was given the incredible opportunity to interview BAFTA and Golden Globe winning actress Brenda Blethyn. There was some back and forth with the publicity department at Acorn TV to set up the details and before I knew it, I found myself actually speaking on the phone with an actress I have watched on the big and small screens in films like Little Voice, Secrets & Lies, and Pride and Prejudice  and, of course, her current popular TV mystery series, Vera.

I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited about a phone call since I was a teenager and a boy I had a crush on called me out of the blue. I was smiling and laughing the whole time (Brenda has quite an infectious laugh, in case you didn’t know) and I packed as much as I could into the fifteen minutes granted to me.

Let me tell you, after five series this lady knows her character. She cited information from Vera’s backstory, knew her work and life philosophies by heart, and even talked at length about DCI Stanhope’s appearance and wardrobe choices. And despite that fact that some of these episodes were made well over four years ago, Brenda remembered a minute detail from a scene to illustrate the point she was making about Vera’s rapport with children.

But what impressed me most about Ms. Blethyn was her generous praise for colleagues with which she has worked. From her Vera cast and crew to directors and co-stars on various films we discussed, she had nothing but the warmest admiration for her fellow collaborators, both in front of and behind the camera.

For example near the end of the interview I went a bit rogue and threw in another question when I was supposed to be bringing our session to a close. I left this out of the write up of my interview for WETA’s Telly Visions because it really was off the cuff and not related to Vera at all:

CC: What was it like to work with Nicolas Cage [who directed her in the film, Sonny], one word?

BB: Aw, it was great! What a lovely man, he was fantastic! He was so kind and generous. We all know he’s a terrific actor, but I liked working with him as a director too. Just gorgeous.

CC: Well, my son will be very happy to hear that.

BB: Oh really? Does he know Nic?

CC: No, he’s just a huge Nicolas Cage fan.

BB: Well, I loved working with him and he bought me a beautiful wristwatch when the job was over.

There you have it- the key to many a woman’s heart is a nice piece of jewelry and Brenda is no exception.

If you’d like to read my entire chat with Brenda Blethyn, click here.  If you’d like to check out Vera for yourself, you can find it on Acorn TV including new episodes each Monday in July. Some PBS channels are also airing series five this month so check your local listings.

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Typecasting makes me sad. For example why must Liam Neeson always play an aging action hero bent on revenge or up against the clock to save a member of his family? He used to be Schindler, Rob Roy, Michael Collins and the widowed stepdad in Love Actually for God’s sake!

That’s what Hollywood will do to you I suppose. Which is why I’m happy to find that in the UK a fair number of actors seem to be given the opportunity to flex their acting muscles and explore human conditions of all sorts.

Case in point…

 

Could the besotted young man above possibly be the played by the same actor who portrays a nobleman’s bastard infamous for sadistic deeds such as hunting down a fair maiden for sport?

 

 

It’s not a doppelganger situation. Welsh actor Iwan Rheon’s repertoire ranges from timid, almost invisible characters such as Simon from Misfits…

Rheon plays Simon, a shy troubled young man who gains a superpower in a freak storm image credit Clerkenwell Films

Rheon plays Simon, a shy troubled young man who gains a superpower in a freak storm
image credit Clerkenwell Films

 

To a soldier with an excess of bravado but with his heart in the right place.

In Our Girl, Iwan plays Dylan "Smurf" Smith image credit BBC Drama

In Our Girl, Iwan plays Dylan “Smurf” Smith
image credit BBC Drama

 

Here’s hoping Iwan doesn’t start getting typecast as well.  We’ve already seen he can depict more than psychos. It’d be a shame if he were pinned down to recreating versions of the abhorrent Ramsey Bolton from here on out, no matter how frighteningly good he is at playing him.

Just an aside, who agrees there’s an unsettling similarity between Rheon and the young Marc Warren?

 

 

 

 

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Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor  image credit BBC America

Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor
image credit BBC America

Peter Capaldi’s debut as the 12th Doctor is less than 24 hours away and I know there are still a few of you out there who are concerned about how a more mature actor will make the role his own. I have no advance knowledge of series 8 of course, but I’m here to say our beloved Time Lord is in good hands.

It has been highly publicized that Peter is a life-long Doctor Who fan so it’s reasonable to assume that this character is obviously very important to him. Capaldi comes to the Doctor Who franchise as an acclaimed actor and director of an Oscar-winning short film.

And while we’ve all probably heard about how Capaldi was cast as a W.H.O. doctor in the Brad Pitt zombie flick, World War Z,  you may not realize how often our newest Time Lord has played a doctor of one kind or another in the past.

For example, he played a medical doctor (albeit a quite unhinged one) in the dramedy Fortysomething. Dr. Ronnie Pilfrey was concerned with the business side of medicine and had something of an obsession with his colleague’s wife, but you’ve got to admire his energy and willingness to commit no matter how ridiculous the premise. Surely these are qualities required of  the newest Doctor.

Most of you are probably well acquainted with Malcolm Tucker, the spin doctor extraordinaire from the political satire series The Thick of It. Malcolm is an artist with words and though they are often quite naughty ones, his verbal dexterity is a skill that transfers well to being a time and space traveler. You never know when you might need to talk yourself out of a jam.

On the other hand, Dr. Pete from the mini-series The Field of Blood is an alcoholic old hack with the soul of a poet. I’m not certain how soulful this Doctor’s meant to be but he usually has a sensitive side for those who are oppressed or abandoned.

*Additionally after watching The Field of Blood in its entirety, I learned that Dr. Pete is so called because he has a doctorate in divinity. Spirituality and the Doctor? The dozen or so hits on the internet that discuss the theology of Doctor Who would indicate there’s at least a passing connection.

Last but not least Capaldi played the Therapist in Big Fat Gypsy Gangster. That skill set should come in handy when confronting angry aliens with Oedipal issues.

Peter also played a psychiatrist in Getting On but he was more an object of desire for Dr. Pippa Moore than a healing character. On second thought, female adoration is something the Doctor has had dealings with on more than one occasion.

So fear not my Whovian friends, all will be well. We have a professional Doctor stepping up to the plate this evening… or at least he’s played one on TV.

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I know I’ve mentioned more than once my strange fascination with men in drag  I’m not referring to men who want to dress as women for their own personal reasons, the Jared Leto/Dallas Buyers Club kind of thing. I mean more power to them and all that, but that’s not amusing. I’m talking about men who are obviously men, dressing and behaving like women for comic effect.

In my opinion, Monty Python’s Flying Circus always did this shtick the best. I never fail to laugh at John Cleese wearing a wig and a dress while employing a high screechy voice. The Little Britain guys have their moments as well. But after finally watching all three series of the comedy/horror sketch show, The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002), I have come to the conclusion that the females of Royston Vasey surpass the Python ladies.

Reenie and Vinnie, charity shop workers who love carrier bags, won't work Thursdays and can't stand that Merrill image credit BBC

Reenie and Vinnie, charity shop workers who love carrier bags, won’t work Thursdays and can’t stand that Merrill
image credit BBC

 

I think this is because they actually develop many of these “women” bringing them back in multiple episodes and letting their stories evolve, often to ghastly ends.

For example, let’s begin with Tubbs Tattysyrup who is brilliantly played by Steve Pemberton. Tubbs and her husband Edward are shopkeepers on the outskirts of Royston Vasey.  Murderously xenophobic, the couple strenuously defend their bizarre way of life and the precious things of the shop. Tubbs is unquestionably loyal and obedient to her husband and for that reason has the mind of a slightly deranged child.

 

Pauline Campbell-Jones (also portrayed by Pemberton) is a restart officer for the local government employment services. Your very first impression might be that she is a compassionate public servant, but you will quickly learn that Pauline is in this job for the sense of superiority it affords her. She slags off her clients on a regular basis and if anyone challenges her, she strikes back quite ferociously.

Which is why Pauline is in the predicament of being out of a job and having to be a participant in the restart course she used to teach.

 

Reece Shearsmith plays Reverend Bernice Woodall, a bitter,chain smoking clergywoman with a ubiquitous smear of lipstick on her teeth. Her sermons tend to have a bit of a fire and brimstone feel about them as well.

We later learn the source of her acrimony and resentment has to do with a childhood trauma that has scarred her, but an even more sinister fate awaits the reverend at Christmas.

The tall and willowy Val Denton is portrayed by the equally lanky Mark Gatiss. Mrs. Denton genially but enthusiastically enforces her husband’s strict cleanliness rules. She gleefully recites the color code for household items and thinks nothing of her husband’s obsessive assumptions about self-pleasuring.

The family is oblivious to the degree of their freakishness until their nephew Ben arrives in Royston Vaysey for what’s meant to be an overnight stay. Apparently this is the first time their weird ways have been questioned.

 

Homely cleaning lady Iris Krell (Gatiss) is employed by Mrs. Judee Levinson (Shearsmith) a wealthy housewife who has a workaholic husband – or does she? Judee tries to feel good about her empty life by bragging to her working class cleaner about her lavish holidays and expensive clothes. Iris knows that she has a better home life than her employer and isn’t shy about sharing the spicy intimate details of her marriage.

 

A majority of the female population of Royston Vasey belongs to a mysterious sisterhood called Solutions.  Stella Hull  (Shearsmith) constantly rows with her husband Charlie and wants to stomp on his happiness by preventing him from pursuing his most recent passion, line dancing. Stella appeals to the group to help her find a “solution” to her problem.

 

If you’ve never visited the absurd village of Royston Vasey, you can pay a visit  through Hulu or Netflix. Watch with an open mind, get used to the humor and rhythms of this show and you will be richly rewarded with series three – the crowning glory of The League of Gentlemen.

If you are already familiar with this extraordinarily bizarre troupe of characters, please tell us about your favorites.  Bonus points to anyone who can tell me which character said this, ” SKEWED BEEF, HAVE ANY BODY GOT ANY BOKKLE AV ARAN DOOVE?”

 

 

 

 

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I just happened to glance at Facebook today right as the bombshell announcement was made  –  Matt Smith will be leaving Doctor Who after this year’s Christmas special.  Not a total surprise, but a recent pronouncement found on more than a few internet sites certainly led one to believe that he would continue as the mad man in a blue box for another series.  In a show that’s produced its share of red herrings, I wasn’t expecting one from the star himself.

Matt Smith and the Tardis image credit guardian.co.uk

Matt Smith and the Tardis image credit guardian.co.uk

I’m not complaining. Matt’s run has been significant in quantity and quality.  His eccentric, energetic, emotional portrayal of the 11th regeneration was always a joy to watch. Even though he was the youngest actor ever to play the role, he made you believe he was a millennial alien time traveler. His interesting, expressive face helped – my husband was always mentioning his noticeable lack of eyebrows – but I think he also had the courage to take risks and the talent to pull it off.

And while the modern Doctors have nowhere near the number of episodes under their belts as the classic ones did, Smith’s 44 episodes approached the David Tennant mark of 49 and we all know they both far exceeded the aloof 9th Doctor’s total of 13 paltry episodes.

Why did Eccleston even bother?  There were companions who logged double and almost triple that amount.

After the painful departure of the 10th Doctor, I learned that the grief caused by a regeneration takes time to heal.  And whereas flirty, charismatic Tennant’s exit left me with the ache of a slightly besotted fangirl, Smith’s farewell is more likely to feel like the loss of a mischievous but beloved little brother.

Until I feel ready to accept a new Time Lord into my heart (and I will not waste my time speculating who the replacement will be), I will take comfort in some fond memories of the brilliant 11th Doctor…

New Mouth, New Rules

 

The Doctor’s Ingenious Cover Story

 

Fluent Speaker of Baby

 

The Doctor’s Truest Love

 

We’re All Stories in the End

 

Best of luck to Matt Smith on the next chapter of his career.  Geronimo!

 

 

 

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person.  But seeing as it’s Holy Week, a spiritually themed post seems in order.   In fact religion has been quite prominent in the media lately what with this guy newly on the scene…

Pope Francis I image credit ABC News

Pope Francis I image credit ABC News

 

And this recent and shocking revelation behind the failure to pass the proposal that would have allowed female vicars to become bishops in the Anglican church…

 

Therefore, I thought it appropriate to share my recent telly encounters with two men of faith – the first is a small village Catholic priest who solves murders in his ample spare time and the other, a well-meaning Anglican vicar who’s in over his head trying to manage his shambolic inner city parish.

Father Brown

Father Brown image credit bbc.co.uk

Father Brown as portrayed by Mark Williams, well-known for playing other famous “fathers” including Arthur Weasley and Brian, Rory Williams’ dad from Doctor Who
image credit bbc.co.uk

 

While it’s obvious that the Church is Father Brown’s primary gig, the investigation of murders and other serious crimes in the 1950’s Cotswolds village of Kembleford is certainly his avocation.  Armed with his ever-present black umbrella, our cleric can frequently be seen, cassock fluttering behind him as he pedals his trusty bicycle hither and yon in pursuit of elusive criminals. Most importantly, he always seeks the truth, even when another explanation might be more convenient.

Another thing that makes Father Brown such a good detective is his advanced observational and listening skills, honed no doubt during his countless hours as confessor for his flock…and while suffering the endless blithering of village gossip, Mrs. McCarthy.

Father Brown is a man of humility, curiosity, compassion, patience and tolerance; a veritable saint, in fact.  How else could he possibly refrain from gloating every time he proves the village police chief, Inspector Valentine, wrong?

 

Rev.

As accepting and calm an influence as Father Brown would no doubt be to a troubled soul, I think I’d prefer Reverend Adam Smallbone to be my spiritual advisor and I’ll tell you why.  He’s as frazzled and screwed up as the rest of us.  Between the demands of his home life (he and wife Alex are trying to conceive), his dysfunctional parishioners, and his charmingly cruel boss, Archdeacon Robert, Adam barely has time to listen to his calling, let alone carry it out.

Rev. Adam Smallbone and his flock image credit guardian.co.uk

Rev. Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander) and his flock
image credit guardian.co.uk

 

The point is I can relate to this man; the fact that he is torn in many directions, has doubts about his career, and experiences a multitude of human emotions including jealousy, guilt, conceit and lust.  All these feelings make great fodder for the humorous situations Adam must endure.  But it also makes his private discussions with God and his personal discoveries more endearing, more real.  The vicar is by no means a perfect clergyman like gentle, constant Father Brown, but he lives and learns from what he teaches.

 

When I think of the way church leaders are portrayed on-screen in the US, my mind goes immediately to the intolerant minister from Footloose (played by John Lithgow) who banned dancing and “devil music” in his small town, the Jim Bakker-brand of televangelist or the priests in horror movies who perform usually unsuccessful exorcisms.  There aren’t many like the kind and ordinary men I’ve mentioned here today.

Both Father Brown and Reverend Smallbone trust in their faith and I can respect that, even when others cannot.

Oh, and did I happen to mention that like Father Brown, Adam is a cycling preacher as well?

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