They’ve had three vicars in the last twenty five years; the last one left the priesthood after punching his dad. They’re a rural community, but have moved away from the farm. So which parish am I describing?
Emmerdale, the ITV soap opera, used to be called Emmerdale Farm. But even a national institution has to move with the times, so they modernised the theme tune and dropped the ‘Farm’ to make clear they’re not just for those with cow-dung on their boots. Characters though, must take the ups and downs of life, particularly blond go-getter Katy who recently fell down a disused mine shaft, ending up in a dark tunnel - so cut off from life that not even her mobile worked. Waiting at the top of the mine is her husband Declan, with whom she’s just had a major bust-up. But now, in the cold light of day – and it is cold on those Yorkshire Moors – he regrets what he said and realises he really does love her. But with underground flooding a danger will he ever see her again?
Sudden emotional U-turns are essential in soaps. They’re a popular art form because they portray one emotional drama after another; ‘just like real life’ we’re told, only ten times more intense and crucially, with much quicker healing in relationships. If this were real life, where grudges are held for years, none of the characters would be talking to each other after ten episodes, which would be a problem for the script writers. For this reason, soaps need the dramatic U-turn where people like Declan suddenly realise that the wife he hated he now loves, and the sister he tried to destroy is now ‘family’, with blood thicker than water etc. Three lead characters all talking again; job done.
And although Ashley, the former vicar, did punch his father, there were extenuating circumstances and religion is not treated with unkindness in the series. Ashley stayed on in the village without his collar and is now one of Emmerdale’s more emotionally-stable residents. Meanwhile the new vicar arranged a vigil for Katy in the pub, a ‘non-denominational setting’, as he said. His intentions were good but the candle-lit silence in ‘The Wool Pack’ did suffer from certain drinkers talking loudly about the day’s shopping spree. There can be value in using the church occasionally.
Soap art doesn’t so much mirror life as accentuate it, magnify it. Everything’s a drama on its way to being a crisis. Take Katy for instance. Two weeks after an ecstatic honeymoon, marital matters have nose-dived. Declan has said he doesn’t need her and after a terrible row she’s now dying in an underground tunnel. Soap characters, like the rest of us, learn quickly that life is a fickle mistress. So what happens next? She’s found! Theme tune and closing credits, please.