NOTE: This is the second post I’ve written focused on the BBC/Amazon Prime series Fleabag. If you have not read the first, click here to check it out! To say this series’ impact on me over the past several months has been profound would be a massive understatement, and subsequent rewatches of the series have allowed me to develop further points of analysis, hence this second blog post. This post will contain spoilers and will not include a recap of the series, so please read with caution if you have not yet viewed or finished the series.
A big thank you to all who contributed their thoughts on the importance of the Priest and his appeal. I am, as always, blown away by the incredible intelligence and deep thought of Fleabag fans.
As always, much love to you all, and thank you for reading!
Undoubtedly one of the most massive and inexplicable television phenomenons of 2019 was Fleabag‘s Hot Priest. The show, whose first series aired in 2016, centered on a young, woman simply dubbed Fleabag, living with London and struggling with the ups and downs of family, sex, and loss. The second series debuted in the spring of 2019, complete with a new, intriguing character (and love interest) in the form of The Priest, portrayed by acclaimed television, film, and stage actor Andrew Scott. Series two proved a smash, widely acclaimed by critics and fans alike, and within moments of Fleabag’s sister Claire uttering the words “The priest is quite hot” at the conclusion of episode one of the second series, social media ran afire about the “Hot Priest,” and to quote series creator, writer, and star Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Saturday Night Live monologue describing the sensation the character created, a “hornstorm” was born. Religious pornography view rates surged, comparisons to The Thorn Birds evoked a reminder that priests could be written as fallible, and the word “kneel” took on an entirely new context.
Press surrounding the character quickly adopted the social media moniker “Hot Priest” to identify not only the character, but also star Andrew Scott. Nearly every interview he partook in over the course of the year attached the title to his name, which perhaps unfairly accounts for the appalling lack of recognition in awards circles for his work on the series despite the widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike. When asked about the reaction, Scott reminded interviewers that the character is called “The Priest” and that the “hot” portion is simply a freak of social media nature, though pointing out the character’s true title has done little to decrease the use of “Hot Priest” to identify the character.
What much of this press failed to recognize was that while for many, television characters come and go due to the astronomical amount of content cycling through streaming services, some of them will leave an indelible impact on our lives. The Priest may be hot, but it isn’t entirely about the looks, as Fleabag herself discovers in her journey to get to know him. In an effort to capture the essence of why many’s love for this character won’t pass (see what I did there?), I asked some fellow Fleabag and Priest fans what makes the character appealing to them.
Review of the requested input regarding the press-dubbed “Hot Priest” revealed some incredible insight into the appeal of this beloved character and what truly made audiences fall in love with him. Below are some of the most common answers among those who offered response, and the results are equal parts moving, funny, and incredibly insightful into the mind of the Fleabag fandom.
Attentive/Listens: This sentiment was echoed across the responses received, mentioned by nearly every person, making it unquestionably the most common answer. Perhaps it is the nature of the Priest’s profession, but why his listening skills stand out is quite simply because where most of the characters in the series ignore Fleabag or entirely disregard her and her perspective, he offers direct contrast. The difference is evident in the first moments of interaction at the dinner table in the first episode, when he clearly shows interest with numerous stolen glances captured and asking her questions when no one else has bothered. He is eager to get to know her when she is often forgotten or ignored among the masses, most particularly in her family circle. Even knowing her lack of faith, he pursues their conversations, never dismissing her opinion, merely challenging her position and allowing her to question his in productive, playful conversations. Perhaps the most touching (and even unsettling) example of this is when he takes notice of the fourth wall breaks she’s made to the audience since the first episode of the series, catching her (and us) completely off-guard. It’s the true testament of the Priest “seeing” her rather than looking through her. The moment is landmark to the series as well as the first sign to Fleabag that she is perhaps not completely alone and that there may be someone else who gets her, even though he may not know her full story.
A modern, vulnerable (and non-toxic) take on masculinity: The past decade spawned many conversations about portrayals of masculinity in the media, much of it in a negative light. The Priest embraces a softer side of masculinity, emotion never fraught in his interactions with Fleabag. He gives her space, encourages their interactions but lets her lead the way in them, and offers support in the ways he knows best, even if it’s a hand on the shoulder or a kind smile. He is frank and unapologetic about his feelings but also corrects people in a gentle, respectful matter rather than taking on an obnoxious complex about being right. His vulnerability is almost instant, and his sweet sentimentality reveals that men want love as much as women do, and that gender has nothing to do with it. Despite remaining elusive about the details of his past, enough hints are offered to know that he and Fleabag are kindred spirits in past heartaches and present love. He is tender and strong simultaneously, adding a sense of modernity to him as well as a touch of classic rom-com hero (without any creepy stalking or patronizing), which makes him instantly lovable. Also, who doesn’t smile watching him cuddle that guinea pig?
Does not conform to preconceived notions- Everyone has their own idea of how a priest “should be,” entailing items such as how he might dress, present himself, speak; the list goes on. The Priest serves to defy any of these expectations, swearing within moments of the audience meeting him and unafraid of a shot of tequila or can of G & T. Even his initial presentation in street clothes does not initially indicate viewers as to his profession. As mentioned above, he shuns judgement, even in moments where it seems like most people might have been upset or even felt betrayed. He listens with a completely open heart, such as in the confessional scene where Fleabag reveals that she lied to him about the miscarriage and that it was not hers but in fact Claire’s. He simply says “okay,” never hurling even a “why” at her like most might have. The Priest manages to surprise the audience each time he appears on screen, from sporting a well-worn Buffalo Bill T-shirt to bed to jamming Jenny from the Block in a drunken stupor. Oh, and let’s not forget that he’s been there “many” times.
Andrew Scott– Actors can make all the difference in a role; there are no doubt some television series and films where altering the actor would forever change the character themselves. The final resounding conclusion amongst those spoken to was that many of the traits brought to the character of the Priest are idiosyncrasies of his portrayer, Andrew Scott. Phoebe Waller Bridge wrote the role for Scott, and he signed on without reading a script. Despite the character being a complete individual, watching even one interview with the actor himself will reveal that there are certain physical gestures and personality quirks that trickle in. For every adorably awkward moment there is a cheekily flirty one to match, a reminder that sexiness doesn’t have to come in the most conventional package. From a goofy smile or quirk of the lips to general physical movement and even the element of romanticism, Andrew Scott embodies the Priest in all facets, injecting the perfect dose of himself into this already well-crafted character.
The recyclability of media only continues to increase with the lightning speed of productions and sheer amount of visual media in production. Love stories are thrown at us constantly, and often, they provide little depth and can be dismissed as disposable and amuck with tropes. The Priest in Fleabag may be one of thousands of male television characters, but for many, he is one for whom there may be no replacement. As an individual character and a love interest for Fleabag, he stands apart as a damaged man truly torn between love and faith, forced to make a decision between two passions. The tears flowing, from both the audience and himself, when he resigns to that conclusion, is equal parts heartbreaking and satisfying. This is a man passionate about his profession, and yet, that same calling him forces him to choose between his heart’s desire and spiritual peace. To make a choice like that takes strength, and though he may believe he lacks it, he exhibits it here in spades.
In many of our lives, there are books, films, and series that mark a turning point in our lives and force us to see things differently, or perhaps even just resonate with us in the space we’re in at the moment. The Priest evokes both our most seasoned and innocent parts, reminding us of our scars as well as the simplicity of wanting love and stability in our lives. Perhaps it is gained through love. Maybe it’s through a career. It could be through fostering a child or a pet. No matter the path, it is valid and it yours, and though Fleabag and its characters may be fiction, the messages are universal. The Priest is a man torn, which likely represents all of us at some point, torn between commitments, relationships, perhaps even careers. To reduce him to a hashtag honing in on only sex appeal is to undermine the incredible emotional impact made by Phoebe Waller Bridge’s creation in the character of the Priest and Andrew Scott’s subsequent molding of the character into a multi-faceted, conflicted man struggling with his own demons as well as the choice between love of God and for a woman. To really boil it down, what’s really hot about “Hot Priest?” He’s real.
Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts down below!
What do you find “hot” about the Hot Priest, and what’s your favorite Priest scene in the series?