What links a US TV televangelist to Frank Sidebottom and Rupert Murdoch?

From Jessica Chastain’s new biopic to a James Graham play, take a dive down the rabbit hole with Tammy Faye Bakker

Personal Jesus

In the 1970s and 80s Tammy Faye Bakker and husband Jim Bakker were enormously successful televangelists, until their Christian TV network empire collapsed amid fraud, jail and divorce. Her story is being told in a film starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Think House of Gucci with a side salad of Jerry Falwell.

Head shot of Tammy Faye Bakker in 1987
Tammy Faye Bakker was a televangelist … Photograph: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

The second coming

In the 80s, Tammy’s outreach to the LGBTQ+ community during the Aids crisis angered her morally certain, if not correct (morally or otherwise), brethren. Bakker also featured in Jon Ronson’s recent BBC podcast Things Fell Apart, exploring our culture wars. In a previous guise, Ronson was briefly a member of Frank Sidebottom’s band.

Abnormal people

Chris Sievey, AKA musician-comedian-life performance Frank Sidebottom, was loosely the inspiration for the 2014 film Frank, co-written by Ronson and directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Normal People, the forthcoming Conversations With Friends). In Frank, Michael Fassbender plays the enigmatic hero with a papier-mache head.

Frank Sidebottom poses for the camera at Lammars on March 12, 2009 in Manchester, England
… who was once a mate of Frank Sidebottom, who was played on screen by Michael Fassbender … Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

The Scottish plays

When not driving fast cars, Fassbender remains a major movie star. In 2015, he played opposite Marion Cotillard in the film Macbeth (“operatic verve”). Streaming now on Apple TV+ is the Joel Coen film-noirish adaptation, The Tragedy of Macbeth, with Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand (five stars!).

Denzel Washington in a scene from The Tragedy of Macbeth, 2020
… who also starred in Macbeth, as did Denzel Washington … Photograph: Alison Rosa/AP

Golden Graham

In the latest iteration of Macbeth, Banquo is played by Bertie Carvel. The English actor who appeared as Rupert Murdoch in James Graham’s acclaimed 2017 play Ink. Graham’s back catalogue includes Quiz, This House and Brexit: The Uncivil War. Now he’s teamed with Elton John and Jake Shears for a musical based on the life of … Tammy Faye Bakker, who became an unlikely hero for the gay community.

Head shot of playwright James Graham, 2018
… and Bertie Carvel, who appeared as Rupert Murdoch in a play by James Graham (above), who is now working on a musical about Tammy Faye Bakker. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Pairing notes

Watch The new film was inspired by a 2000 documentary with the same title, which is narrated by the queen of drag queens RuPaul.

Eat On a 2019 episode of Jamie Oliver’s Friday Night Feast, Chastain, a long-term vegan, shared a recipe for tempura rolls. “Insanely good!”