“Greetings fine folk of Dibley, it’s Geraldine here! Your buxom vicarette.”
If the soaring choral intro ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’ didn’t do it for you, then surely the cheerful tones of Dawn French’s Geraldine Granger will put you in the festive spirit - even if this first of three short specials is actually set earlier this year, a month into national lockdown.
Framed as remote sermons that Geraldine delivers via Zoom to her (ahem) eccentric parishioners, The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown documents the various stages the nation went through during lockdown, including the ubiquitous bad haircuts. Geraldine’s shaggy-do comes courtesy of farmer Owen Newitt, more used to shearing sheep than tending to trademark bobs.
Technical issues abound, of course, as Geraldine's internet glitches during her first sermon, and she accidentally delivers a rather more ominous message than intended.
There also seems to be some confusion among Dibley residents over social distancing. We learn that Jim Trott (best known for his ‘no, no, no’ catch-phrase) was last spotted going full caveman in the local woods after mistaking metres for miles; and the sex-starved Owen sends Geraldine a rather troubling query about an alluring ewe.
While the special takes us back in time to the start of this unique year, for those familiar with The Vicar of Dibley, there are also plenty of callbacks and nods to past storylines. An ill-fated Zoom call with local school children seems reminiscent of a scene from one of the earlier seasons, when Geraldine visited the local primary school and asked kids about their favourite animals. The vicar is keen to talk about Noah’s Ark, but unfortunately for her, the kids have all just watched Jurassic Park.
Other moments, like when Geraldine runs off-camera to tell a parishioner to (in no uncertain terms) sod off - right in the middle of a Sunday sermon about ‘gentleness’- recall her cheekier side, a nod to all the times she bundled idiotic locals out the door (especially when otherwise preoccupied with handsome strangers, or, failing that, a KitKat).
Only one other original cast member appears on camera in this first instalment: James Fleet as Hugo Horton, the dim-witted but well-meaning son of parish council leader David Horton. Hugo video calls Geraldine from inside his Farrow & Ball-painted toilet, where he’s hiding from father David.
In the series, Hugo is married to the equally gormless Alice Tinker, played by the late Emma Chambers. No reference is made to her in this first episode, but Dawn French has promised that a later instalment will include an emotional tribute to Alice.
The Vicar of Dibley has long been a cultural touchstone for Britons, on our screens in some form or other since the 1990s. A regular on shows like Comic Relief, there have been plenty of one-off specials over the years, but this year’s sermon specials feel particularly needed: a heady dose of nostalgia and comfort.
It’s almost a relief to be back in Geraldine’s snug, tomato-red living room, the walls lined with books and revolving photos of attractive film stars. A picture of Idris Elba may have replaced Geraldine’s shrine to Sean Bean, but this is without a doubt still the same Vicar of Dibley we all know and love.
The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown starts on BBC One on Monday 7th December at 8:50pm, following a repeat of a classic episode from the series.
The new series of Christmas specials will consist of three episodes in total, each one clocking in at 10 minutes long. While you’re waiting, visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight, or check out our guide to new TV shows 2020 to find out what's airing this autumn and beyond.