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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Life on the Inside

Warning: this article contains spoilers.

A vicar, a murderer, and a journalist walk into a…

No, it’s not the beginning of a bad joke; it’s the premise of the recent BBC drama, Inside Man.

This dark thriller presents us with a simple moral statement: ‘Everyone’s a murderer, you just need a good reason and a bad day.’

To prove the point, Jefferson Grieff, an American on death row, is pitted against Harry Watling, a happily married father and vicar in suburban Britain. Are they really so different?

Grieff reminds people that he killed his wife and mutilated her corpse. But, he articulates this fact calmly and contritely, embracing the death penalty he faces as the just consequence of his ‘unforgivable’ crime. Using his remaining time to do good, he acts as a kind of death row detective to solve crimes of ‘moral worth’. His aim is not atonement, but simply to be ‘a decent human being’.

Harry, conversely, wants to remind himself, other characters, and the viewer that he is – by definition – a good person. His angry monologues are regularly punctuated with shouts of, ‘I’m a vicar,’ often accompanied with an expletive. When he finds himself drawn into a series of implausibly stupid decisions, he claims his motivation is to protect the vulnerable. But his vision is limited to those in his immediate social circle and, ironically, it is they whom he ends up dragging with him down the slippery slope of sin.

In this fictional moral universe, as in ours, actions speak louder than words. A journalist may claim to care about people, but will easily sacrifice a friend for a good story. A plain maths tutor turns out to be far more calculating than we initially realise. A vicar is only too believably a paedophile.

As the plot twists forward, Harry exploits this fact; it would be tragically easy for him to convince people his cheerful, God-fearing facade hides a man with dark and disturbing proclivities locked behind a taped-up door. The message is clear: the inside man and the outside man do not always match up.

Christ knows what is inside man (and woman). We can hide nothing from him. Yet he also knows what it is to be inside man. He views all our weaknesses and flaws with empathy and compassion. So, let’s be brave in bringing our sin before him and insistent in living with integrity before our neighbours, however good the reason not to, and however bad the day.

Rachel Smith
Rachel is a part-time writer and a full-time mum. She attends King’s Church Durham.

Image courtesy of BBC


  1. Thanks for these insights. I’m enjoying the drama on catch up

    By Bruce Gulland  -  4 Nov 2022

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