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)

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