Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Vicar of Dibley

Having re-watched the entire series recently, I felt it would be fun and interesting to write a short article.

A show that is in popular demand years after its creation is a fine thing and the hit British sitcom The Vicar of Dibley is no exception. In 1992 the Church of England endorsed the ordination of female priests, a highly controversial move and not one universally recognised as lawful. Protests ran through the streets of Britain as people openly detested what they believed were unorthodox changes to the churches system. Those against fled to religious teachings such as 1 Timothy 2:12 ‘I suffer not a woman to teach’ in a bid to justify their lack of willingness to accept. Met with such great opposition female priests in training were faced with huge amounts of prejudice. As a hugely topical theme in the early nineties, Richard Curtis brought forth The Vicar of Dibley, a sitcom that uncovered the ongoing conflict in a comedic fashion. The show, which follows the first ordination of a female priest in 1994 has succsessfully found its place in British television history.

Set in the beautiful and fictitious village of Dibley we are introduced to various conservative caricatures, the people of Dibley who are in most cases traditionalist are exposed to the realities of having a female vicar. Geraldine Granger played fittingly by comic actress and writer Dawn French is animated, kind hearted and highly amusing. Her arrival in Dibley is met with diverse views, David Horton (Gary Waldhorn) heads up the opposition with his staunchly orthodox views and love for the conservative way of life. His initial reaction and behaviour is very much a microcosm, representing the hostility toward female vicars in the real world: “Unless they’ve landed us with a woman as some sort of insane joke[1]” Without even allowing the new Vicar to prove herself as a capable candidate he continually tries to remove Geraldine from her position. This notion of utter disgust has been displayed by irate church leaders and conservative thinkers alike throughout the past two decades. Even as recently as July the Vatican has spoken out against the ordination of female priests, aligning it to the same level of severity as sexual abuse (a highly arguable statement, one that has sparked debates worldwide.) This incredibly eccentric level of distain for female ordination reflects how brave and daring The Vicar of Dibley’s production team have been.

As much as David Horton wishes to remove his new female preacher, the majority of Dibley welcomes Geraldine and her humour into their village, acknowledging that change is necessary. David’s gradual acceptance of Geraldine is obvious and parallels societies change in judgment. His growing affection for the bodacious vicar escalates into love and eventually he accepts that Geraldine Granger is in fact a most remarkable woman; “Because of you the churches are full, not empty, and because of you our lives are full, not empty.[2]” From what may have started as a clever comedic stand to promote female ordination, The Vicar of Dibley has become one of Britain’s most loved and charming sitcoms regardless.

With erratic characters verging on the edge of lunacy it’s not hard to love Dibley’s idealistic and odd charm. Owen Newitt played rather realistically by Roger Lloyd-Pack is a frustrated and lonely farmer with a serious swearing problem, his utterly outrageous outlook on life is twinned with a sensitive and love deprived personal. With Newitt’s character the comedy factor gets pushed to a brilliant immoral limit with many stories based around bestiality and sickening violence. Maybe one of the more famous members of Dibley is ‘no no no no’ Jim (Trevor Peacock,) his inability to speak without the incoherent addition of ‘no’ is a trait loved by all fans of Dibley. Frank Pickle (John Bluthul) Is probably one of the only dull individuals with a laughable personality, his obsessive need to explain everything in the tiniest of detail is enough to send anyone into a self induced coma and yet he is part of the great makeup of Dibley. The beautifully adorable couple Alice Tinker (Emmer Chambers) and Hugo Horton (James Fleet) are Dibley’s prime examples of its inhabitants, brainless yet adorable. As farfetched as the characters seem, they have been devised in such a fashion that their melodramatic antics appear quite normal for the quaint little village.

Throughout the two seasons and periodical specials the topic of Geraldine’s gender is brought to light, brief reminders that there are still people that do not accept the ordination of woman. However It is truly fulfilling in the finale episodes to see Geraldine, who has given so much to the people of Dibley, find true love with the oh so romantic Harry Kennedy played charmingly by the handsome Richard Armitage. Episodes which fell under scrutiny by many viewers for its predictable and farfetched plot, despite these criticisms it is my personal opinion that it was the perfect way to mark the end of something beautiful.

The Vicar of Dibely presents a mass of dysfunctional human beings who together have created some of the most memorable scenes in British television. As an intellectual representation of British acceptance of female ordination it is brilliant, as a sitcom it is a pure delight. In the end it is not a question of piety or faith, it is the question of equality and forwardness in an ever progressing world. Throughout the past two decades The Vicar of Dibley has graced our screens with its heart warming comedy and continues to be a popular choice on the shelf - as it will be for many years to come.


[1] (Christmas Special 2004, Gary Waldhorn.)
[2] (Episode 1, Arrival, 1994, Gary Waldhorn)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Batman Begins - The Nolan legacy

A review of Batman Begins (2005) and a look at the successful re-launch of a much loved hero.

‘You’re just an ordinary man in a cape,’ Ra’s Al Ghul’s confident statement is both true and underestimated; it is perhaps Batman’s greatest asset that sets him aside from other comic book heroes. The fact that he bears no super human strength and is simply a man in a bat costume makes him a far more impressive protagonist. Batman as one of DC’s most prominent and recognised superheroes has been in circulation since the 1930s, it has magnificently survived the test of time overcoming various scrutinises and criticisms. It can be said that since Batman’s launch it has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon spanning across all forms of medium including TV and FILM. In 2005 Christopher Nolan (Insomnia 2002) brought Batman spiralling back into the limelight with his hit blockbuster Batman Begins, and thanks to his flawless vision Batman has returned to its dark and haunting origins successfully banishing the light hearted and camp connotations that have recently followed Batman’s image.

The union between Nolan and Batman is like a tragic romance, something so perfect and brilliant drawing to an inevitable end. It is a fact that Nolan will not continue to direct Batman forever as it is also a fact that the next in line will be Nolan’s third and final instalment of his Batman series. Nolan’s confident and superior reconstruction has created something of a cinematic explosion allowing for a new wave of enthusiasm for DC’S marvel. The enormous renovation in style and atmosphere can be sought in its simplest form; the franchise logo. Eradicating the image of a black bat on a yellow background is something no director will ever achieve however the redesign for Nolan’s films is both sophisticated and mature, everything Batman Begins is.

As the title suggests Batman Begins gives us a fresh new look at the beginnings of Bruce Wayne’s Christian Bale earlier years. We are given a compelling visual perspective into Wayne’s haunting past and his painful journey which ultimately leads to his transformation into the caped crusader. The films integral plot is complex and intelligent fusing together characters and stories from across the comic book span. The film is of breathtaking quality with highly charged action scenes and infallible car manoeuvres, there’s hardly a dull moment. It could be said that for a film based upon such a crime busting superhero there isn’t enough action throughout, however in my personal opinion the majority of the film has a well balanced combination of action, drama, humorous one liners and impressive gadgetries and vehicles. Futuristically efficient and fashionably designed The Tumbler, modified to Wayne’s request is the new Batmobile. It’s robotic like exterior is effectively intimidating, while its inner workings promote a stylish and advanced technological wonderment. The Batsuit itself is fetchingly foreboding, an intricate compound capable of transforming a man into a monster or in our case a bat.

Set amongst the fictitious city of Gotham, with excessive amounts of criminal activity and corrupt officials Gotham is a fictional geographical embodiment of everything a civilisation fears. Batman Begins illustrated to us a side of Gotham so worn and dilapidated it is an unbelievable idea that its populace have found reason to stay; from the skylines it is a wealthy site from the streets it’s a sodden and seemingly lost cause. The detailed portrayal of Gotham invigorates a strain of life battling for survival; taking a huge leap from previous depictions Nolan deals with a gritty and uninviting aesthetic rendering previous adaptations less impressive in their design.

The characters have been modelled on the comic book creations and have been given a very convincing refit of their own. Christian Bale who has proven himself on many occasions in films such as American Psycho (2000) and Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) gave both Bruce Wayne and Batman the justice they deserve. As the embittered Bruce Wayne Bale was both emotionally and dramatically believable, as the justice seeking Batman, Bale was smooth, bad ass and of equal praise. Liam Neeson’s calm and stoic appearance worked well for the villainous Ra’s Al Ghul creating a more lifelike villain, his slick and calculating pace was marvellously appropriate. Cillian Murphy was particularly terrifying as Dr Jonathon Crane, perfectly cast Murphy sparked life into the psychotic mind of the Scarecrow. Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, childhood friend and love interest of Bruce Wayne was for me a spot on choice. Holmes played the part with great delicacy bringing a blend of vulnerability and courage to the character, her compassionate nature and wish for justice was incredibly apparent.

Gary Oldman was a respectable and lovable representation of Jim Gordon, down to earth and ready to bring peace to Gotham Oldman is an outstanding actor playing a brilliant developing character. A final note must go to Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, taking the roles of Lucius Fox and Butler Alfred. Freeman offers great one liners and his humour is well timed and executed perfectly. Caine is simply perfect and gives a compelling performance especially when the endangered Batman is in need of his aid.

It can be said though aside from a complex plot; Ra’s Al Ghul’s true identity was in my opinion predictable and disappointingly executed, I feel the twist could have been handled in a less obvious manner eluding the audience to alternative conclusions. Furthermore it felt quite rushed with a very translucent explanation, and in comparison to the rest of the movies effective dramatic emphasis it was an awfully lacking scene. Another downfall to the movie was the fleeting finale, after a huge build up to the films climax a very short and unsatisfying fight scene was carried out. To the audience’s frustration there was very little action between Christian Bale and Liam Neeson, it seemed that the scene was focused far too heavily on the moral and humorous one liners passed between the two enemies. Although the conversation between the two was of good quality, after its intense build up I was waiting for a lengthy action scene between the two, rather that a short and weak fight ending in a less than climatic fashion.

Stripped of pantomime comedy and over theatrical annoyances that has in the past negated Batman, Batman Begins has reinvented the hero, with such a strong new legacy one can only hope that it lasts long after Nolan’s work is complete. To relaunch a franchise as big as Batman takes great courage and vision, Batman Begins showed both of these qualities and aside from a couple of drawbacks the film is well worth a watch. I must stress how impressive the renovations are and how suitable they are for Gothams Dark knight.