I first heard about Parch because Charlotte Church tweeted that her friend was in it and it was very good. That’s how modern I am. And how thoroughly modern, and because of that, thrilling, Parch was. A story of a conflicted modern female vicar dealing with the pressures of family, requited but unattainable love, an unlovely soon-to-be-married couple, visions of a ghostly ex-priest, declining church attendances, life-threatening illness and the madness of twenty-first century life, Parch could very well rank up there with the best things S4C has ever done. And if you think that’s damning with faint praise, I speak as someone who has watched Sgorio for over twenty years.
Myfanwy is the vicar of a (presumed Anglican) parish in Welsh-speaking Wales whose Sunday attendance is down to four but which has, as is the usual case, a bigger impact than that in the local community. People want to be buried there, couples want to marry there … and the previous incumbent, “TJ”, was held in high regard. Myfanwy can only fail in his shadow. In the first episode we learn two things: that she has feelings for funeral director Eurig and that she needs surgery on a brain tumour which is causing her to see visions. Over the following seven episodes these, and other interweaving stories, were explored before ending in a final half hour or so of surprising, and earned, emotional wallop.
For much of the time, Parch was visually arresting – I particularly enjoyed seeing the garb of the visions Myfanwy was prey to ranging from ballroom dancer to ice cream salesman – and I liked that it wore its convictions and plot devices on a sleeve of humour. I also liked that having been filmed, in part at least, in Llantwit Major, my parents’ old back garden seemed to feature.
The faith of the vicar was never mocked, but similarly the atheism of Terwyn, Myfanwy’s suffering and cause-of-suffering husband was given sympathy. Dialogue fizzled as well. My Welsh being just about good enough to pick out some of the phrasing but the subtitling being clever enough to draw out a lot of subtlety. I think all of the characters, with the exception of Terwyn’s student stalker Angharad, were given a fair appraisal and allowed their own foibles and angsts. But even Angharad was well-played and the ensemble cast throughout were superb. It was generous and sympathetic writing from Fflur Dafydd that created a believable group and then gave them the chance to shine. The understated performance from Lowri Steffan as Ceriann, Eurig’s wife, encompassing a whole range of emotions, especially in the final episode will live long in the memory.
But, obviously, the performance on which the whole series stood or fell was that of Carys Eleri as the central character and it’s fair to say she was excellent. And I’m not just saying that because I fear that Charlotte Church will unleash a twitter army on me if I say otherwise. It can’t have been the easiest role to work through and to play it all with such a light touch whilst also allowing decent emotion in is an impressive thing to pull off.
There was ambiguity at the end. In fact, virtually none of the myriad stories was properly resolved. But Parch managed to be satisfying and then some. There is now talk of a second series although I’ll need convincing it can hit the same heights. But maybe I should learn from Parch itself before prejudging. After all what is needed, really, is faith.