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No true grit, as yet

26 January 2018

A Vicar’s Life and Hard Sun

BBC/Richard Weaver

The Revd Ruth Hulse and the Revd Matthew Cashmore, who appear in A Vicar’s Life (BBC 2, Fridays), set in the rural diocese of Hereford

The Revd Ruth Hulse and the Revd Matthew Cashmore, who appear in A Vicar’s Life (BBC 2, Fridays), set in the rural diocese of Hereford

IS IT part of the Archbishop of Can­ter­bury’s recruiting drive? What favours is he calling in to persuade BBC2 to give us A Vicar’s Life (Fri­­­days)? England’s most rural diocese, Hereford, has been chosen to con­­trast with TV’s usual portrayal of clergy chipping away at the coal­face of gritty urban ministry.

So far, we have seen Ruth in Here­­ford; Matthew in Much Wen­lock; and Nicholas, with 14 churches and 1300 souls in apparently the dio­cese’s most rural living. It is a posi­tive portrait: these are clergy eager to find new ways of engaging with their community, new ways of bringing the community into their churches.

So far, so good. But there is a problem: it is rather bland. This is not a criticism of the subjects them­selves, but of the medium. We have seen nothing of the challenging encounter, or the soul-sapping exhaus­tion when we acknowledge our fail­ure to do or say the right thing. The cameras are far happier lingering over mountains of home-made cakes, pints of good beer, and the tattooed baptism party made welcome be­­yond their expectations. Perhaps we are being softened up, and will shortly move into harder territory.

I have not the slightest doubt that the clergy depicted carry out their ministry splendidly; and, of course, proper concern for confidentiality means that it is easier to film a sunny garden party than eavesdrop on the support of the parent whose child has committed suicide, or the family where the young wife has just died of cancer.

Part of the softening-up is due to the background music: gen­eric feel­good burblings that would flatten anything. How appalling that the institution that has as magnifi­cent a musical heritage as any in the world is given a soundtrack more appro­pri­­ate to an advert for sliced bread.

The furthest possible contrast graced our screens in last Saturday’s episode of Hard Sun (BBC1). The inner-city priest in this had to cope with hearing a psychotic murderer’s confession, being threatened at knife­­­­­­­point, and almost strangled.

This is a police thriller, ostensibly about the mayhem generated by the leaked “Hard Sun” files, proving that the world will be destroyed in less than five years. But we have seen nothing of what these files contain: rather, they provide an excuse for an orgy of violence, as unhinged indi­viduals take out their despair on all around them.

It follows every cliché of the genre, including brilliant but troubled de­­tec­­tives with angst-ridden back-stories arrogantly refus­ing to follow rules yet through mere instinct achieving results denied their duller colleagues. But worst of all is the unremitting, extreme vio­lence: the knifings and the beating-ups. The camera lingers on corpses covered in blood. It is vile, disgusting, shameful.

Clergy are supposed to blather on about how there is too much sex on TV; well, I don’t. The polluting, in­­excus­­able pornography is violence. This should not have been com­mis­­sioned or screened.

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