Father Brown has been on the rise over the last few seasons, and Chris Chan has his DVD review to let you know if Father Brown Season Six should be added to your queue.
The sixth season of Father Brown shows a notable improvement over the early seasons, as well as the continuation of old mistakes, particularly those that soured the fans of the G.K. Chesterton’s original mystery classics.
What’s the greatest difference between the original source material and the show? The answer probably lies in the expectations toward the audience. Chesterton always challenged his readers. He challenged their preconceptions about themselves, their characters, how they viewed other people, how they looked at society, and what they thought they knew about history. He especially challenged their intelligence, and most of all, he challenged people to look deep into their souls and identify what was broken and how to fix the damage. After reading Chesterton’s tales, mystery fans will never look at civil servants, the aristocracy, professional thieves, scientific pronouncements, newspaper reports, or even their own reflections the same way again. Chesterton sought to change his readers for the better, to improve not only their minds and souls, but to teach them how to seek out weaknesses in themselves and society and improve them.
The television series Father Brown, in contrast, has no such lofty ambitions. It’s trying to be entertaining, but not challenging. It stubbornly clings to popular social misconceptions and gaps in the popular knowledge. I despise the term cozy as a shoddily and thoughtlessly overused term, but perhaps it applies to the town of Kembleford at the center of this series. Seinfeld once savaged the lowbrow comedies that benefited from the august sitcom’s lead-in by creating dimwitted television executives who declared, “I love stuff you don’t have to think too much about.” Unfortunately, a similar principle applies to Father Brown.
Of the ten episodes of Season Six, four are pretty good, four are average, and two are seriously flawed. Unfortunately, the solutions to the mysteries tend to be obvious to the seasoned crime fiction fan. None of the episodes are based on any of Chesterton’s mysteries, and none of the great writer’s ingenuity goes into the plots. In most cases, the intelligent viewer will be able to spot the killer halfway through, based on blatant misdirection, the seemingly ancillary minor character who turns out to play a pivotal role in the plot, and clues so obvious one might think they’re double bluffs (but aren’t). Most of the early episodes that took the name and basic plot of one of Chesterton’s original stories jettisoned his innovative and clever solutions. As the series has progressed, the show has demonstrated no qualms about stealing (or perhaps “paying homage” would be a kinder phrase) from classics, and Season Six sees endings and pivotal plot points previously used in Chinatown, Murder, She Wrote, and The Dark Knight, to name just a few. If you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best, I suppose.
There are some major factual errors as well. In one episode, someone compares brothers to Romulus and Remus rather than Cain and Abel. In the most common versions of the myths, Romulus and Remus had a tempestuous relationship, sometimes culminating in the former killing the latter, just like Cain and Abel. Worse still is Father Brown mixing up the Eighth and Ninth Commandments. The screenwriter seems to be unaware that the Catholic and Protestant (and Jewish, for that matter) wordings and orders of the Commandments are quite different. A similar mistake was made in an earlier season.
Despite my carping, there are some rather good aspects of the series, mainly coming from its main cast. Sorcha Cusack’s portrayal of parish secretary Mrs. McCarthy’s character has been mellowed over the series’ run, and her malicious streak and gossiping self-righteousness have been tempered. Sid Carter (Alex Price) and Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll) are no longer regular cast members, but when they make guest appearances, the cast clicks and their presences are extremely welcome. Relative newcomers Emer Kenny and Jack Deam are solid contributions to the cast as Lady Felicia’s spirited niece Bunty and the stubborn Inspector Mallory, and John Burton is particularly likeable as the aptly named Sergeant Goodfellow. John Light shows a bit more character development in his once-a-season appearance as the master thief Flambeau, taking more steps down the path to redemption that was so intelligently crafted by Chesterton. Mark Williams remains the cornerstone of the series, always giving a warm and nuanced performance as the title character, though the material often lets him down.
Unfortunately, despite having a priest as the hero, the series has always shown disdain for religion, never allowing Father Brown to exercise any real moral authority or influence. The supporting cast sees nothing wrong with their personal favorite sins and tend to treat Catholicism more as a social club and charity than anything else, and Chesterton’s moral and intellectual power is largely absent.
Unlike other seasons, two episodes require a familiarity with earlier storylines in order to be fully understood. “The Jackdaw’s Revenge” is a direct sequel to the previous season’s “The Eagle and the Daw,” and MI5 agent Daniel Whittaker first appeared in Season Three’s “The Man in the Shadows” before returning for “The Face of the Enemy.” Without seeing the earlier episodes, the returns of some characters are flattened and even confusing.
Father Brown seeks to be light entertainment, and it’s built up a considerable fan base due to what it does well. But it could be so much more…
Father Brown: Season Six