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04.04.2019

On Fleabag and Fear | Connecting with Culture

‘I spent most of my adult life using sex to deflect from the screaming void inside my empty heart.’

So speaks the unnamed female protagonist in the hit BBC comedy-drama Fleabag. With the series two finale airing on Monday night, unresolved issues abound – not least the divided opinion surrounding the interactions between the main character and the Catholic priest. But whatever your thoughts on that particular relationship, Fleabag remains a cutting-edge piece of drama.

Interspersed between dark comedy, frank depictions of dysfunctional family life, and desperate sexual choices, there are moments of stark vulnerability. One such scene takes place in a confessional:

‘I’m frightened’, she says. ‘[…] I want someone to tell me how to live my life, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong […] and even though I don’t believe […] and I know that scientifically nothing I do makes any difference in the end anyway, I’m still scared! Why am I still scared?!’

It’s here that we realise ‘the screaming void inside [her] empty heart’ is made up mainly of fear. Fear that she’s getting it wrong. Fear that she’ll forget those who have died, or that she’ll be forgotten. Fear that no-one truly understands her, and that if anyone really knew what she’d done, they’d never accept her.

Because although she confesses plenty in that scene – from ‘a lot of sex outside of marriage… and once or twice inside someone else’s too’ to ‘endless blasphemy’ – there is one notable omission. One of those sexual encounters was with her best friend’s boyfriend, and it led to her best friend’s (accidental) suicide.

Whether intentional or not, she confesses only that which seems forgivable, that which is – up to a point – culturally acceptable. She’s scared that if anyone actually knew how badly she’d messed up, they wouldn’t want anything to do with her.

It’s the basic human fear, spelled out by a broken woman clutching a glass of whisky, sitting in a confessional. Grief and guilt and pain compounded by a deep-seated fear of rejection.

Fleabag draws us in with its humour but keeps us hooked with its astute observations, its emotional weight, and its perceptive reflections. By balancing the line between laughter and tears on a knife edge, it compels us to think not only about what fears and hurts lie hidden in the hearts of our friends and colleagues, but in our own as well.

Nell Goddard

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Author

Nell Goddard

Comments

  1. Wow, heavy is putting it mildly. True to life though. How many of us would truly identify with this lady. Jesus came for all. Her sins are no worse than any others. Praise God He sees no degrees of, only sin. Would love to know how it ends on BBC 2!!! Praise God His love is unconditional and His blood was shed for all. By grace are we saved. A gift from a God.

    By Winifred Spyridaki - 5th April 2019
  2. Thanks Nell, for taking ‘the hit’ for me. Fleabag is a drama I would never choose to watch, yet need to know about so I can relate better with family, friends and acquaintances. You and your colleagues continue to equip me well for engagement on my frontline (contact with the ‘real world’). Beautifully expressed too, so a joy to read.

    By Christopher Markham - 5th April 2019
  3. Thanks Nell,

    I have not seen Fleabag myself. However, the themes of fear, isolation and meaninglessness are common enough in the 21st Century.

    In the Bible the Psalms speak of strong emotions such as anger and despair, but also point us to God. Perhaps we should read them more often.

    By John Steley - 5th April 2019
  4. Thanks Nell, I love your writing and, like Christopher, felt I had to watch Fleabag to keep in touch with the ‘real world’. As Christians we can too easily get isolated from the reality of a life without God. Thank God he knows and loves me warts and all.

    By Amanda Marshall - 5th April 2019
  5. Re Amanda Marshall’s comment. As Christians we too easily get isolated from the non-Christian world and so cannot connect with those who need Christ. As a man in a Bible study group said, “Of course that sort of thing just does not happen at C Church!” His wife simply burst out laughing.
    Well done Nell and LICC for being brave (!), realistic and helping people where they are. My son got thrown out of Hearts of Fire for a similar in some ways question.
    Peter Gowlland

    By Peter Gowlland - 9th April 2019
  6. I’d heard from colleagues about how good Fleabag was and so, before reading this, I watched it. I found it illuminating, witty, deep and profound. It’s not how I spent my early 30s but I’m thankful to have seen it and be able to get a better view of today’s culture and how I might relate to friends. As a single Christian, I identify her longing to have someone to wake up with and make decisions together about the day, what to eat etc. She’s brave and fearful and I kept wishing she’d know God in all his wonder but I don’t think it’d be commissioned then. Thank you for encouraging me to watch it and learn more about ourselves.

    By Becky - 27th April 2019

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