Olivia Colman: Vicar's wife in Tom Hollander's Rev

Friday 25 June 2010, 15:12

Gary Andrews Gary Andrews

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Rev is a new six-part sitcom for BBC Two, written by James Wood and co-created with In The Loop star Tom Hollander. Tom plays Adam, a country vicar who's relocated to a parish in inner-city London, while Olivia Colman plays his solicitor wife, Alex.

Olivia talked to me just after she'd watched the completed version for the first time, to find out what it was like on the set of Rev, how she hoped it would be received and why comparisons to the Vicar Of Dibley are wide of the mark.

Olivia Colman as Alex in new sitcom Rev

Can you tell us a bit about Rev, and your character, Alex?

Rev follows a vicar - an inner-city vicar, who's moved from the countryside - and the trials and tribulations of his very little congregation, and he and his wife. You know, normal stuff that shows he's a normal, human person - a married man with normal problems but also a dog collar.

It was lovely playing Alex. She's quite ballsy but they're both very good people - they're helping people in different ways.

I kind of felt that Alex thought that Adam made her want to be a better person because he really does turn the other cheek and try to see the best in everybody and she's maybe a bit more keen to just say "Agh, let's just go home!"

But she's lovely to play and they're a lovely, lovely couple. I mean, it's sort of from their back story. We think they met when they were quite young - before he went into the cloth - and she just followed him wherever he went because they're soulmates.

What were your thoughts when you first saw the script?

I really like quite dark comedy and I like the fact that it could stir people up. I don't think that's a bad idea, ever.

Some people are quite precious about vicars and vicars who can get erections [laughing]. But he's human, we're all nothing but humans and that's what I like about it, it really did deal with the humanity, the spit and dribble of everyday life. But you'd be disappointed it you're wanting the Vicar Of Dibley!

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There's a great bit in the second episode where, in an effort to spice up their sex life, Alex walks into a supermarket dressed as...

A prostitute!

Yes! That part had me in stitches. What was that like to film?

It was quite embarrassing! The shop had security cameras so they guys who owned the shop were standing there looking really bored watching us on security cameras and me tarting around in high heels. It was embarrassing! But fun. I like the waist the corset gave me!

What were your impressions now that you've seen it properly on the screen for the first time?

I'm really proud of it - I loved it! Sometimes you watch things after it's been through the editing process and you worry that people have cold got feet and have wanted to jazz it up for an audience.

The original script was just so beautiful on its own, it was dark and there were gaps, you know, spaces for thoughts to happen - I sound a bit pretentious now - but what I love is they haven't tried to change it, they've just left it as it was.

It was called something different while we were working on it, and Rev really suits it. I much prefer the name, as it was originally called Handle With Prayer. Rev's right for it - it's snappy and modern.

Tom Hollander as the Reverend Adam Smallbone on his bike, wearing a yellow luminous jacket

As you say, it's dark but it's also quite accessible to somebody who's come to it cold and likes mainstream comedy.

Absolutely! Because they're funny characters and Tom does funny - he can do it easily. And then there's his reactions, and you know that he's battling with his thoughts, and you can watch it all unfold. It's a classic comedy in terms of what someone does in an awkward situation.

How does your character progress as the series goes on?

They're always trying to find time for each other. What else? There's more attempting to have a sex life. And the fact that she says "Don't wear the dog collar in the bedroom!" I mean you would do that, wouldn't you? You'd say "Don't do that!"

[The interview takes a quick break at this point as Olivia composes herself after collapsing into a fit of giggles]

There's a lovely episode where a friend of Alex's, who is a Muslim girl, asks if she and her Muslim friends can borrow some space to pray in the church. Adam's like: "Of course, of course," and then he's battling with how people feel about that.

It's like, "There are Muslims in my church!" You know, it's saying out loud everything what everyone thinks. Adam just goes, "Don't be ridiculous," it's just... it's great.

The cast of Rev outside the church, from left to right: Simon McBurney as the Archdeacon, Miles Jupp as lay reader Nigel, Tom Hollander as Reverend Adam Smallbone, Olivia Colman as Alex Smallbone, Ellen Thomas as Adoha, and Steve Evets as Colin

What kind of reaction are you hoping for when people see it for the first time?

I hope they're going to warm to the characters and love them.

Colin [played by Steve Evets] is a homeless smelly guy and you wonder are people going to love him? But he's lovely! And the fact that Adam might well be his only friend in the world.

There's one episode where he lets himself in, or he breaks in, we don't really know, and he has his morning dump in the downstairs loo of the Vicarage and you're not really sure how Adam and Alex cope with that!

But I hope the audience warm to these people and they want to know, I don't know... after seeing it they think, 'I want the people to do well in it. I hope they're going to be OK'. And I think these characters are strong enough and lovable enough that people want to get really involved. It's much more than a comedy about religion and vicars.

Gary Andrews is the assistant content producer for the BBC TV blog.

Rev starts at 10pm on BBC Two on Monday, 28 June. To find out further episode times please visit the upcoming episodes page.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    And BBC HD. Why do these blogs never give a plug for BBC HD?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Oh no! This was trailed as a male version of the Vicar of Dibley. How disappointing. The vicar is portrayed as a weak, drunken, easily manipulated wimp. Why oh why does anyone think this is comedy! I turned this off after about 25 minutes, and wont be turning to it again. And yes, I'm a vicar!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    It was brilliant - I loved it!
    It's nothing like a male version of the Vicar of Dibley.
    The charm of it is that it's set in inner London ergo nothing like the countryside-set Vicar of Dibley.
    The cast was brilliant and I can't wait for the next episode.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Easily manipulated? Hardly - I saw a guy struggling to deal with all sorts of different pressures being placed upon him, but being strong enough to avoid taking the easy option and end up doing the right thing.

    I liked the dry wit in the script - best line for me was the Archdeacon's comments about "Chris Hitchens' booksigning".

    Not saying it was brilliant, but I did enjoy it, and will definitely be watching next week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I thought it was great. Just retired from being a vicar - but I've also been offered stuff by prospective parents and tried to manage my expression as they talked - in a style and with assumptions that were way outside "Christian culture". Tom's expressions were spot on. Everything was spot on - especially the Archdeacon!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I have watched both episodes and have been impressed. I could never take Geraldine Granger seriously as a person of faith even though Dibley made me laugh, but here I have no trouble with Adam as a person of faith. The people and the scenarios seem very credible too and I feel on familiar ground.

    I was particularly taken with the Evangelicals from ep. 2: spot-on and well observed and only by the merest touch exaggerated. I've met a fair few Darrens over the years.

    My American friends can't wait to see it but, very keen on Dibley as they are, I'm not sure what they'll make of it. They do their religion differently. Maybe they'll identify more with Darren than Adam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    As an active Anglican, I thought it was spot on, and quite challenging in many ways: the sheer messiness of our faith when dealing with the problems of day-to-day living came across very well; most importantly the essentiality of love towards our fellow man, however ugly, smelly, or (viz. Darren) arrogant. The Archdeacon was very well drawn: I hope there are a few AD's who were given lots of food for thought!

    I will be looking at our Vicar's wife in a new light at the Parish BBQ this weekend: should I ask her if she wears a purple wig when she goes to the corner shop?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Thoughtful, nuanced and funny in a gentle way – convincing characters, sharp script and smart casting. Above all, DIFFERENT for a clerical sitcom – Father Ted was pure, vicious satire, its bite reinforced by all-too-true stereotypes, while Dibley had a more farcical flavour, poking fun at rural English eccentricities and served up with huge dollops of sentimentality. ‘Rev’ shares some of these elements, and is clearly identifiable as a situation comedy, but unusually it is dealing with the difficult interface between modernity, Christian culture and Christianity rather than just using religion as a purely comic vehicle. I think the commentator who called the Rev ‘weak’ is missing the point; part of the charm of the character is that he is meant to be human and real. This was particularly apparent in the second episode with the always excellent Darren Boyd, whose fake-tanned, egotistical monster wannabe of an evangelical vicar, utterly sealed inside the bubble of his glossy, success-oriented faith/business, perfectly encapsulated this dichotomy in the modern C of E. There is a degree of gentle grappling with what Christian faith might mean that is a refreshing counterpoint to the savage or pitying anti-clericalism seen for example in the otherwise brilliant Being Human. It’s just a comedy of course, but it will be interesting to see how this one develops.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I'm enjoying this so much! Well done folks.
    So many familiar and challenging senarios, and comedy on many levels. Being a Christian is hard work, loving people like Colin and the archdeacon is hard work, but I think the Rev. is showing us why it's worth while. If we can't laugh at ourselves, we'll never be able to spot where we're going wrong! Keep it up team Rev. you're making me think and smile. Great cast!

    Just off for a smoothie...

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Have just come back from Church of England's 'parliament' - the General Synod. Many people there talking about the programme appreciatively, having enjoyed the characters and story lines of the first two episodes. For TV comedy, Rev is much more accurate and real in feel than anything produced previously - and deliciously funny with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It must be frustrating for Olivia Colman to still be playing the same character i.e her acting tone and look seem to be the same in everything she does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    I do like the show but strongly disagree with how the evangelical vicar was portrayed. There may indeed be people as arrogant as him, bit all teh evagelical vicars I've met have been fantastic people,smoothie bar or none. I think the character was caricatured, it's usually the evangelical vicars that are the best at welcoming in the poor and disposessed in my experience.. though it did make a great point.. the evangelical churches are full, the liberal ones are empty.. that much they got bang on!

    I wonder if the BBC is actually capable of making a sit com that's sympathetic to an evangelical standpoint? Humm.. I think not alas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Well, Rev has certainly highlighted the full range of emotions and experiences I struggle with day-to-day! I thought it was well balanced - should cause evangleicals and liberals a few sleepless nights. If it can find enough themes to keep going the characters could stand alongside other BBC comedy legends

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I got married at that church. St Leonard Shoreditch. And I like the TV series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    As an RC looking in from the outside I found it very funny with a real feeling of authenticity. It is the humanity of the characters that make Rev so watchable.

    #12 I agree that the evangelical vicar was one dimensional and while a good device for the episode, did show the angle the show's writers are coming from.

    Overall, one of the better shows on the BBC. Here's to commissioning Series 2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    What a truly wonderful programme! Tom Hollander is perfect as the vicar and the rest of the cast are just outstanding. Funny, witty, touching and thought provoking, the best thing on TV by a LONG way. Truly brilliant much more please BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    This is a brilliant series - I love it. Funny, well written and acted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Funny, rude, touching...brilliant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I LOVE IT .
    Is there to be a second series ?
    I wouldn't compare it to the "Vicar of Dibley" , it's more subtle than that ( no disrespect to D French tho , "Vicar of Dibley" was really funny ).
    This is the best thing the BBC has done for years , I only hope it doesn't get "too" popular , and get "dumbed down"
    LOVE IT !!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Nowhere in the world would you get such a show. It is clever, touching, hilarious, subtle, thought-provoking, beautifully, beautifully performed and strange, as you English are (I am Welsh but have lived much of my life in England, and indeed worked for the Church of England some time ago.)
    Tom Hollander is a superb actor, and the relationship with his wife is just gorgeous.
    My friend, Mrs Vicarage, loves it and so does Mr Vicarage. Aah, the BBC, glorious on so many levels


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