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Vicar of Dibley Seasonal Specials

After a dodgy start as a female vicar in the village of Dibley, Geraldine Granger has now settled into her role and is completely accepted by the villagers, particularly the parish committee, populated by village squire, David Horton, his son Hugo, and locals Owen, Jim and Frank. Geraldine still has her crosses to bear though, particularly with verger, Alice, who has recently married Hugo Horton, neither of whom are the smartest cookies in the tin. Geraldine has her own domestic bliss, at least for a short while, when she gets together with David’s brother, Simon. And Alice’s pregnancy, and the subsequent birth of her daughter, who the Hortons name after Geraldine really helps bring the village together. This is just as well when the local water company reveals plans to flood Dibley to create a reservoir, scattering the inhabitants to various locations. Will the villagers be able to prevent these plans? Will Geraldine find the love of her life? Or will she decide to leave Dibley for pastures new?

The Vicar of Dibley has been a highly successful, arguably the most successful, sitcom in recent years. This is partly down to a stellar cast and excellent writing, but another point in its favour is the way that it has been shown in the form of episodes and specials of different lengths, and shown at different times of the year, so that the audience never really gets the chance to become bored of it. This DVD consists of four specials, of about forty minutes each, one for each season of the year. They are not one-offs though – there is no reason why anyone shouldn’t watch them out of order, but they do make more sense in order, particularly the Alice and Hugo story.

The cast of this sitcom is superb. Dawn French sits at the helm, playing Geraldine Granger. Dawn French is fabulous here, with perfect comic timing and some of the best lines in the show. Part of the beauty of her role is that she is very natural, like most of us she has faults – mainly eating too much chocolate and an eye for the men. 

Alice, played by Emma Chambers is another favourite. Alice is, to put it politely, mentally challenged, and the time that Geraldine has to spend with her trying to make her understand provides a lot of the laughs – particularly at the end of each special when Geraldine tells Alice a joke, and then has to explain it to her in great depth. Her character probably develops the most, mainly because she is the youngest – in this series of specials, she has a baby, but still maintains her ‘special’ nature!

Alice is ably assisted by James Fleet, who plays Hugo. Fleet often does these ‘posh twit’ roles, so he wasn’t exactly stretched here; nevertheless, this is a fun role. His father, David Horton, is brilliantly played by Gary Waldhorn. A pompous twit, David is used to being the leader of the village and sometimes resents Geraldine’s popularity, but soon comes to value her, thus gaining the respect of the viewers. Waldhorn has great comic timing and fully deserves his second place to Dawn French in the billing for this DVD, although he is not as endearing as Alice.

Then there are the three men of the parish committee – Owen, played by Roger Lloyd Pack; Jim, played by Trevor Peacock and John Bluthal as Frank. Lloyd Pack is probably the funniest, and has some of the most cracking (and often very disgusting) lines, but it is Trevor Peacock as Jim who is my favourite. Frank is my least favourite, just because he is so slow and pedantic; nevertheless, Bluthal is still excellent in the role and is very much part of the team. Some may miss Letitia Cropley, played by veteran actress Liz Smith, who doesn’t appear in any of these specials, having already been written out in a previous special. 

The humour is fantastic – thanks both to the writers, Richard Curtis and Paul Matthew-Archer, and the skills of the actors in translating it. It is frequently close to the edge, and there have been a number of complaints over the years – for example, Geraldine has an active sex life, and there are many references to sex with animals (on the part of Owen) and prostitutes (on the part of Jim). I think this is partly why the show has been so successful though – it shocks and therefore stands out. Of course, if you think you may be offended by the suggestion of vicars having sex and other deviant practices, then steer clear!

What always impresses me about the Vicar of Dibley is that, with the exception, perhaps, of the last two episodes ever, the quality is very even. These four specials are just as fresh and funny as the first series, and although very few new characters are introduced, the main ones and the relationship between them never become boring. Clive Mantle, who plays Simon Horton, is introduced in the first special, Autumn, but although it seems as though he is going to have a major role, it never really materialises. 

The Vicar of Dibley really is a classic sitcom, and these four episodes certainly fits in very well with the general standard. Highly recommended.