Posts Tagged ‘Tom Hollander’

I started watching this most recent Mitchell and Webb project expecting something more like Peep Show or their sketch comedy offerings.  Let me tell you right now, Ambassadors is something almost completely different.  This three-part BBC Two dramedy is set in the fictional central Asian country of Tazbekistan. David Mitchell plays Keith Davis, newly appointed British ambassador to the former Soviet territory and Robert Webb plays his experienced Deputy Head of Mission, Neil Tilly.



The entire embassy team must work together to strike a balance that keeps both the corrupt Tazbek president and their own demanding government officials happy.  Often faced with monetary versus human concerns, the diplomats walk a tightrope of moral dilemmas.

I found that the one hour format made the tenser moments tend to drag while funny moments were far too infrequent. What I did like about this show is that even though the action takes place a few thousand miles from the UK, it’s very much about being British.  Here are some of the lessons I learned from watching Ambassadors.


Eccles cakes should contain raisins…I mean currants:

Keeley Hawes and David Mitchell as Keith David, the British ambassador to Tazbekistan and his wife Jennifer

Keith Davis, the British ambassador to Tazbekistan, and his wife Jennifer


The British Embassy is, as you might expect, the official presence of Old Blighty in foreign lands.  Even Tazbekistanis have an appreciation for Last of the Summer Wine and the excellent reputation of Harley Street physicians.

In an effort to convince the Prez (Igor Naor) and his advisors to contract with the British government for military helicopters, Keith and his associates pull out all the stops to put on cultural festival. Unfortunately the staffer in charge of planning the event is a native of Tazbekistan.  Her understanding of the Best of British is a pork pie demonstration, Morris dancers, a band of medieval musicians, a chutney booth and a one-man dramatization of Frankenstein performed by Britain’s least talented, yet most deluded, Shakespearean actor.  Keith’s wife, Jennifer (Keely Hawes) can’t even coerce their staff cook to make a proper batch of Eccles cakes.


The Royal Family actually has to earn its keep:


Prince Mark of Bath (Tom Hollander), a minor royal family figure, is being sent to Tazbekistan in his capacity as a trade envoy. Initially the embassy staff find his adamant sense of entitlement and insistence on staying at the Four Seasons (even though there isn’t one in the whole country) infuriating, but his position makes it impossible for them to say anything about it.  Soon enough however they find the Prince’s expertise invaluable as he helps them with a business deal and surprisingly a human rights issue as well.


British bosses are intimidating, even more so via Skype:

POD skyping with his embassy staffers

Foreign Office bigwig POD (Matthew Macfayden) grilling his staffers


If the job of a diplomat isn’t difficult enough, the constant pressure of a critical boss can send some civil servants around the bend (and apparently Davis’ oft-mentioned predecessor was one of those people). The bane of Keith and Neil’s existence is a man known only as POD – short for Prince of Darkness.  Thanks to internet technology, they are at his beck and call and it goes without saying that video chatting with POD is never a friendly or pleasant experience.


More British News Makers I Don’t Know

In episode two, we find embassy personnel discussing the logistics for the arrival of Prince Mark in Tazbekistan.  As an indication of HRH’s character and judgment,  someone mentions the godparents of his children.  If you’re not familiar with these names, as I wasn’t, the joke just doesn’t fly.

Here are Prince Mark’s choices as good moral influences on the lives of his offspring…

Jonathan Aitken, former Conservative MP

Jonathan Aitken, former Conservative MP convicted of perjury

Fred Goodwin, RBS head infamous for his part in the financial crisis in the UK

Fred Goodwin, RBS head infamous for his part in the financial crisis in the UK

Sue Barker, former tennis player and TV presenter. Her only scandal would be her past relationship with singer Cliff Richard
Sue Barker, former tennis player and current TV presenter. Her only scandal would be her past relationship with singer Cliff Richard

If you don’t know why the Cliff Richard reference is funny, please follow my usual procedure and Google it.  If you’ve never even heard of Cliff Richard, you’re more behind the British culture curve than I am, dear chum.

Ambassadors just finished airing in the UK this week, so it might be available to view on the iPlayer.  No surprise, I found it on YouTube.


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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?



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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