On Radio 4: Bad Faith

For me, Lenny Henry as a serious actor still takes some getting used to, not least as my earliest VCR-related memories are of taping his sketch show and then watching it hoping my parents wouldn’t walk in and disapprove. I grew up in a Vicarage so there is a bit of further connection as in this radio series Lenny Henry is playing a police chaplain who is losing what he values in life and his faith. Now well into its second series I finally got round to listening.

Vicars in drama struggle for credibility. Writers often reveal their own prejudices and the need to have character who obviously does God and uses that for good (or should do) doesn’t necessarily fit with the template for how modern work should be done. This is especially true when we move into the inner city. The vicar almost becomes an embodiment of Raymond Chandler’s comment about Marlowe being the good man walking down the mean streets … something doesn’t quite fit. From what I’ve heard of Bad Faith it manages to avoid most of the obvious traps whilst at the same time not moving too far from the familiar.

Lenny Henry is Jake Thorne and at the start of the Afternoon Play (although a series it is broadcast in this slot) “Opiate of the Masses” he was in hospital and recounted, deadpan, how he got there. The softness of Henry’s voice and the hospital soundscape reminded me a lot of the way Neil Pearson’s voice was used in Vent, the dark comedy in which a man in a coma connects with his past and the world around him.

As I’m late to the series I didn’t immediately grasp whether Thorne was guilty of everything he was accused of or which he blamed himself for but the good thing was that although there was a lot of self-pity going on it was never allowed to stall the drama (which covered hostage taking, suicide, murder, a basement exorcism, drug dealing and job loss) and the ‘minor’ characters who impact on Jake were given distinct voices. There was also precious little dead writing where ends are tidied or the mostly middle-class audience are given something comforting with their medicine. Peter Jukes’s script also featured nice moments of humour and some very smart writing – although I didn’t need the conversation explaing the episode’s title.

There’s one more episode in this series and I’ll be listening if only to find out where you can take a faithless, jobless, homeless vicar once he’s hit what appears to be rock bottom.

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