Brotherhood: The Inner Life of Monks

Rating 7.7
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 60 mins

There have been a few former trends come back in recent years – flared jeans, the 70s shag haircut, platform shoes. And we’ve just received word of the latest resurgence, on its way back from the medieval era: monastic brewing.

There’s not much better than a cold pint, is there? And nobody knows that better than the Brits. The last three months of lockdown have been near torture for many who are feeling the absence of their local and that Friday night beer. But when the pubs finally do open again, that first sip is going to taste extra delicious – especially if it’s been hand crafted by British monks.

This BBC Four doc meets the monks of Leicestershire’s Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, who amongst their Vigils and Lauds are making time to brew a petty unique boozy beverage. You can see that the producers of this doc had every opportunity to make this a Monk mockumentary with gags round every corner of the cloister. But instead they’ve made a gentle, reflective and rather fascinating film, and if you ask us, that’s a decision well made.

The elderly monks discuss their life in observance, detailing their routines of prayer and dedication to God which begins when most of us aren’t even half-way through our night’s sleep. They discuss the role of death in their lives, and we see Brother Liam Strahan reflect on his life shortly before his passing, viewers then watch as his body was laid to rest without a coffin. It’s a sad occasion not only because of the passing of a friend and brother, but because they are unlikely to find someone to take his place. Whilst there was once 75 in their number, now there are only 24. And yet none of it is shocking or upsetting. In fact, it’s remarkably peaceful and matter of fact.

They handled their financial situation with the same frankness, explaining that they needed both an income and a vocation. And what better option than beer brewing? The only real criticism we have is that we’d love to have peeked into their pasts, learning a bit about their backstories and understanding their journey into becoming monks.

The Telegraph’s Anita Singh has another, though, which is that she wished the programme makers had “taken the advice of one of the novices interviewed here, and ditched the music,” saying “It was a film that needed no adornment.” In The Times, Carol Midgley called this a “mental detox,” “intimate and surprisingly moving,” about “men giving everything to God even when, as one brother said, some family members considered it a waste of a life.”

Well, they won’t be saying that when they get a pint at mate’s rates, will they?

First shown March 2021.

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