THEY have had three
vicars in the past 25 years - the last one left the priesthood
after punching his dad. They are a rural community, but have moved
away from the farm. So which parish am I describing?
ITV soap opera, used to be called Emmerdale Farm. But even
a national institution has to move with the times; so they
modernised the theme tune and dropped the "Farm", to make clear
that it is not just for those with cow-dung on their boots.
Characters, though, must
take the ups and downs of life, particularly the blonde go-getter
Katie, who recently fell down a disused mine-shaft, and ended up in
a dark tunnel - so cut off from life that not even her mobile
worked. Waiting at the top of the mine is her husband, Declan, with
whom she had just had a huge bust-up. But now, in the cold light of
day - and it is cold on those Yorkshire Moors - he regrets what he
said, and realises that he really does love her. But, with a danger
of underground flooding, will he ever see her again?
Sudden emotional U-turns
are essential in soaps. They are a popular art-form because they
portray one emotional drama after another - "just like real life",
we are told, only ten times more intense, and, crucially, with much
quicker healing in relationships. If this were real life, none of
the characters would be talking to each other after ten episodes,
which would be a problem for the scriptwriters.
For this reason, soaps
need the dramatic U-turn, where a person such as Declan suddenly
realises that the wife he hated he now loves, and the sister he
tried to destroy is now "family". Three lead characters all talking
again: job done.
And, although Ashley, the
former priest, did punch his father, there were extenuating
circumstances, and religion is not treated with unkindness in the
series. Ashley stayed on in the village without his collar, and is
now one of Emmerdale's more emotionally stable residents.
Meanwhile, the new vicar arranged a vigil for Katie in the pub, a
"non-denominational setting", as he said. His intentions were good,
but the candlelit silence suffered from certain drinkers talking
loudly about the day's shopping spree. There can be value in using
the church occasionally.
Soap art does not so much
mirror life as accentuate it, and magnify it. Everything is a drama
on its way to being a crisis. Take Katie, for instance. Two weeks
after an ecstatic honeymoon, marital matters have nose-dived.
Declan has said he doesn't need her, and after a terrible row, she
is now dying in an underground tunnel. Soap characters, like the
rest of us, learn quickly that life is a fickle mistress. So what
happens next? She is found! Theme tune and closing credits,
Simon Parke is the author of Pippa's Progress (DLT,