​I would hesitantly describe Rev as a more gritty, inner-city and incarnational Vicar of Dibley, although it frequently defies such characterisation. In the very first episode, the “Rev” of the title, the Revd Adam Smallbone (played brilliantly by co-creator of the series Tom Hollander), is seen drinking and smoking, and heard swearing, as he struggles with the transition from a small rural parish in idyllic Suffolk (think Vicar of Dibley) to the dysfunctional parish of St Saviour in the Marshes, somewhere in the inner east end of London (in real life, St Leonard’s Shoreditch). 

What I really like about Rev is its realism. The star, Hollander, explained in an interview on the BBC: “We wanted to define ourselves in opposition to the cliché of a country vicar, partly because we wanted to depict England as it is now – we wanted the complications of the multicultural, multi-ethnic inner-city, where everything is much harder.” The authenticity achieved is, for me, the greatest appeal of Rev. Which vicar has not wondered in prayer, as Adam does, “Why, God, did you give me this crumbling barn of a building?”, or “Why am I called to be a fundraiser?” Who among those called to preach could not sympathise with Adam as he is devastated by a poor review of one of his sermons on an online site (think “Mystery Worshipper” on the Ship of Fools site), and subsequently loses confidence amounting to a crisis of faith? 

The struggles with loneliness (“Please Lord, can't I have just one friend, preferably one who lives in London?”), also ring true, as do the appalling singing of the hymns at St Saviour’s, the numbers-orientated archdeacon (referred to by Adam as “the dark Lord”), and Nigel, the lay reader, who thinks he could run the parish so much better. 

Rev is a generally positive portrayal of the Church of England, at times good fun (although the laughs do not come as frequently as they do at Dibley), and often completely irreverent! It is, therefore, not for everyone, and it does lose the plot from time to time – it’s extremely unlikely, for instance, any parish priest or archdeacon would ever allow a consecrated church to be used for a “vicars and tarts” party! 

This, and some of Adam’s more outlandish antics in later episodes (appearing at a parish function inebriated, gambling online, flirting with the school headmistress), detract from the realism achieved in the excellent first few episodes. 

Even so, I found Rev refreshingly realistic, honest, and, in terms of applied theology, essentially incarnational – Adam is a very human Rev, and St Saviour’s in the Marshes is a very human congregation. Somewhere in the midst of all the messiness and complexity of the daily lives of one priest and his people, God is present – but it is very much for the viewer to determine where. 

Whilst Vicar of Dibley is to be cherished, there is no doubt Dibley, its vicar, and its people are essentially idyllic, and plainly fictional, presentations of the Anglican Church and its clergy. Rev is a sometimes too-close-for-comfort, brutally honest and realistic portrayal of ministry as it (often) actually is. 

Dr Bradley S Billings is Archdeacon of Stonnington and Glen Eira and Vicar of St John’s Toorak.

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