Jam and Jerusalem

…or, a little something to amuse you on this holiday Monday.

One day when I was looking for Absolutely Fabulous episodes online I ran across this little show called Jam and Jerusalem written by Jennifer Saunders and Abigail Wilson.  I took a quick look and as it had Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley playing minor roles so I didn’t give it much thought. However, as I searched for Jennifer Saunders interviews I kept running into this series so I threw caution to the wind and gave it a whirl.

As it turns out, Jam and Jerusalem is a totally charming look at life in the village of Clatterford St. Mary.  The plot centers around the members of the local women’s guild, including Eileen – the self-important president of the guild, Kate – a perpetually cheerful young widow, Rosie – a factory worker with multiple personality disorder (played brilliantly by Dawn French), Tip – a medical receptionist/sheep farmer, and Sal – the wife of the local doctor. When Sal’s husband dies of a heart attack in the first episode, the member of the Women’s Guild rally around to help her in her time of need.  Sally Philips (Shazzer of Bridget Jones’ Diary) and David Mitchell (of “Mitchell and Webb” and various other comedic projects) play Sal’s children.

Here’s what I really like about the series.

1. It has some really, really good character acting. As “Rosie” Dawn French gives one of the most sympathetic portrayals of mental illness that I have ever seen,  Not only do you like her, you are amazed at how seamlessly she slips in and out of each of her characters. Reminds me of the “Gollum/Smeagol” scene in “The Two Towers.”  Jennifer Saunders gives a very understated performance as the upper-crust Caroline.  But watch for a particularly moving scene in the third series.  Makes me cry, every time.  And take note of the continual references to Sting and other celebrities.  Extremely funny.

2. Saunders and Wilson do an excellent job in their treatment of the Anglican Vicar.  An uptight, slightly neurotic and highly stressed “high church” Anglican, the Vicar (played by Patrick Barlow) suffers the indignities of a “low church” culture and an aging congregation whose particular quirks ruffle his ecclesiastical feathers.  But the genius of the writing is that unlike many portrayals of Christian clergy, the vicar is not a straw man.  Sometimes he is right, sometimes he is wrong.  Sometimes he is a jerk, and sometimes he displays great caring and compassion for his parishioners.  As the series progresses we see a man who has a great love for beauty and order who has been thrust into the midst of a village that is set in its ways and determined to keep up with its traditions, no matter how tawdry or trite they may be.  Watch for the vegetable man and the Last Supper craft made out of teazels.  You’ll see what I mean.

3. The Guild.  In the fifth episode of Series 1 the guild is visited by a member of the larger Guild executive, who comes just to check up on how the Clatterford St. Mary branch is getting along.  Lady Anne Crump puts her finger on the purpose and value of the Guild: to bring together women from different walks of life to support each other and benefit the community.  If it wasn’t for the Guild, it is likely that these ladies wouldn’t interact with each other.  I’m at a point in my life where I can really see the value in having an institution like this, in having people to support you through all stages of your life. (Thankfully, I do have friends like this – shout out to Moms and Tots!)

4. The music.  The title song (a cover of The Kinks ‘Village Green Preservation Society’), as well as much of the rest of the music, is done by Kate Rusby, who has a lovely clear voice.  I especially loved “Sweet Bride” in episode 5 of series 2, so beautiful.  She even appears in person in one of the episodes, but I’m not going to tell you which one because it would ruin a plot point. Aside from Kate Rusby, the music for the series is very Celtic, a pleasure to listen to.  I watch the series partially for the music, just like my love for the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice comes from that utterly lush piano soundtrack.

Well, enough of the recommendations.  Don’t you think it’s time you checked out Jam and Jerusalem?  Let me know what you think!

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