Holy Rollers? Celebrating Charismatic Preachers in TV & Film

With the upcoming sophomore season of Gemstones coming, I thought we could take a look at ‘charismatic’ Christian preachers in TV drama/comedy, which include the late Reg E. Cathey in Luke Cage (2018), Keith David in Greenleaf (2016-) Michael Keaton (as Blaine Sternin) in Frasier (2002), Aidan Quinn in the controversial Book of Daniel (2006) and Jonathan Pryce in Mr Wroe’s Virgins (1993).


Satanist Dancing - The Righteous Gemstones


BBC New Season preview for 1993


What is it that draws people to real life version of these preachers? Obviously it’s charisma, a search for meaning, a ‘family’ etc – y’know,  the usual stuff. In the U.S. charismatic preaching has become a huge industry (see Joel Osteen), but far less so in the U.K. from where I hail. And although they’re a fair few doing the rounds on the fringes and an increase in dubious versions from Sub-Saharan Africa (exorcism etc) in parts of London, it’s more of a trend in cinema.


The recent trend for Christianity to be featured in sitcoms is evidenced in shows such as  TV Land’s Impastor (2015-16), Soul Man (2012-16),  The Good Place (NBC), Living Biblically (CBS) and God Friended Me (CBS). Some in the UK may fondly remember Kenny Everett’s Brother Lee Love


Rumours have circulated that the “Age of Trump” has prompted the likes of HBO and Netflix to look at developing at mini-series version of Sinclair Lewis’s con-man preacher satire Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster won an Oscar for the title role in the 1960 movie).


Burt Lancaster ELMER GANTRY TRAILER 1960


4 years earlier, Lancaster essayed a similar role as conman Bill Starbuck – The Rainmaker:


The Rainmaker (1956)


Lewis also wrote It Can’t Happen Here, the 1935 novel that predicted the rise of an authoritarian leader in the US. Steve Martin played a much more affable con-man preacher in 1992’s wishy-washy Leap of Faith.


And finally, check out Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon (1972) and John Huston’s Wise Blood (1979) for more con- men preachers/Bible salesmen.


Wise Blood 1979 Trailer
Did I miss any exceptional preachers in film or TV that you remember?

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Stephen Arnell

Culture Comment Content Provider. Portrait courtesy of artist Darren Coffield. 'Non satis me tempo'