You know that Christmas and New Year are well and truly over when you see Father Brown return to the daytime TV schedules in time to provide a warm and cosy pick-me-up to help us through the post-holiday slump and the cold grey days of January gloom that follow.
Mark William’s take on GK Chesterton’s Father Brown first appeared on our screens back in 2013 and these days seems to be going from strength to strength. Its season order has been upped from 10 to 15 episodes for this latest run which is also now getting distribution in the US, and whereas it took the first run over a year to be grudgingly released to the home entertainment market this time season 3 will be hitting the DVD shelves the minute the show finishes its latest run on BBC One. All of which are strong indicators that Father Brown is doing very nicely, thank you very much.
There’s another sign of a new confidence in the show on display in the very first episode of the third season, which features a complex swooping crane shot over the top of a train station and between two trains pulling in at the platform, the kind of thing that any evening drama would be right in feeling very pleased with itself for pulling off. Otherwise however there’s little discernible change to the show this year compared with its sophomore outing in 2014, and for that reason I find I have absolutely nothing to add review-wise to the words I penned 12 months ago and which you can read here.
However, the one useful update that I can bring you is an episode guide for season 3 with pen sketch reviews of each of the new stories airing in 2015:
“The Man in the Shadows” by Rob Kinsman (January 5, 2015)
Father Brown’s friend Sid (Alex Price) sees a murder, but the police appear to be covering it up. As Cold War paranoia grows, MI5 shows up and it’s Sid who ends up being thrown behind bars. A more complex story of espionage than usual, providing plenty of twists and turns.
“The Curse of Amenhotep” by Jude Tindall (January 6, 2015)
A famous explorer brings back an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus, which when opened appears to bring down a deadly curse on Kembleford. Director Matt Carter has plenty of fun with the light Hammer Horror visuals which in many ways resemble a user-friendly version of what we saw in Doctor Who’s “Mummy on the Orient Express”, but the story is a little underdone and ends up a good ten minutes too short.
“The Invisible Man” by Tahsin Guner (January 7, 2015)
A seedy circus provides an unusual background atmosphere, and the episode goes a little over the top with a sinister psychic and his comic book powers of hypnotism, but underneath there’s a pleasing tale of unrequited love and a good murder mystery to figure out.
“The Sign of the Broken Sword” by Stephen McAteer (January 8, 2015)
A murder on a military base during a remembrance service for those lost in Dunkirk leads Father Brown to uncover the truth behind a famous World War 2 battle. The setting allows us to see the regulars in a new light (especially Father Brown himself) and the mystery is a genuinely absorbing one.
“The Last Man” by Jude Tindall (January 9, 2015)
Murders at an annual local cricket match may stem from a shady deal to run a new road through Kembleford, but also contain signs of blackmail, adultery and racism. At one point there appears to be a plot contrivance so brazen that I was prepared to denounce it as the laziest writing ever, but it’s actually a very smart clue that proves key to delivering one of the most poignant and genuinely affecting of denouements.
“The Upcott Fraternity” by Paul Matthew Thompson (January 12, 2015)
Dark conspiracies in closed communities are always fertile ground for mystery stories, so the prospect of Father Brown investigating a series of suspicious deaths at the seminary where he trained is just too delicious. Even so, the real treats here are a rare appearance for Lovejoy star Dudley Sutton as the elderly rector, and the hilariously incongruous sight of ‘heathen’ Sid attempting to masquerade as a trainee priest.
“The Kembleford Boggart” by Jonathan Neil (January 13, 2015)
A pleasingly Gothic tale in which a young authoress finds herself held virtually prisoner in her own home by her overbearing father, who is then murdered. Father Brown has to look into the pages of fiction to discover the truths behind the many layers of real life secrets involved to solve the crime, in a very satisfyingly old-fashioned mystery.
“The Lair of the Libertines” by Lol Fletcher (January 14, 2015)
A strange misfire in which Father Brown and his friends Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll) and Mrs McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack) are marooned at an isolated country hotel populated exclusively by a bunch of over-the top eccentric caricatures. Despite grisly murders and explosions the whole thing is played strictly for laughs including two instances of Father Brown getting off his head after unwittingly ingesting cake laced with opium, but then ends with a sequence that is jet black and worryingly very non-PC. Given that the series hallmark is its assured lightness of touch, this story is a worrying fumble with just one brief scene to redeem it in which Father Brown and Inspector Sullivan (Tom Chambers) collaborate without their customary squabbling.
“The Truth in the Wine” by Kit Lambert (January 15, 2015)
After the previous disappointment, a welcome classic palate cleanser. The writer of this episode is clearly a fan of the old school, and this traditional tale of murder at a family vineyard even features an explanatory denouement with all the suspects gathered together in the drawing room. It’s a good mystery with absolutely no one proving to be who quite they appear to be, and Father Brown kept unusually faithful to his literary roots in his style of sleuthing.
“The Judgement of Man” by Paul Matthew Thompson (January 16, 2015)
A visit from Father Brown’s nemesis Flambeau (John Light) is always a treat and this one is made even better by the prospect of an art heist, but the delightful cat-and-mouse games are beautifully balanced by deadly serious consideration of recent real life historical and moral crimes.
“The Time Machine” by Tahsin Guner (January 19, 2015)
There’s a whiff of the Jonathan Creeks about this tale which features a young genius apparently able to travel back in time in order to find out who murdered his father the year before, but ultimately it’s a classic magician’s sleight-of-hand trick and the actual solution lies close to home.
“The Standing Stones” by Rachel Flowerday (January 20, 2015)
The real-life horror of a polio outbreak in post-war Britain forms a powerful backdrop to a sinister tale of pagan worship which leads to Father Brown’s faith being tested to the limit – will he choose to make the ultimate sacrifice? At least guest star Mark Benton is on hand as a friendlier and more capable local copper than the usual bunch.
“The Paradise of Thieves” by Rob Kinsman (January 21, 2015)
A clever howdunnit kicks off with the sort of attention-grabbing start beloved of series like CSI, as an attempted bank robbery comes to a screeching halt when a corpse is found in the vault. Father Brown is occupied by the question of how to get funds to repair the leaking church roof – and just why everyone was so keen to make sure he was on hand when the safe was opened.
“The Deadly Seal” by Dan Muirden (January 22, 2015)
Eventually any crime series about a Catholic priest will have a tale centring on the seal of the confessional, and this uses the ethical dilemma to its fullest effect and in multiple ways as Father Brown has to find a way around his vows in order to save lives and catch a murderer. As well as I, Confess there’s an echo of an even better-known Hitchcock film to be found in this story.
“The Owl of Minerva” by Jude Tindall (January 23, 2015)
For the first time, Inspector Sullivan takes centre stage first as investigator and then as prime suspect in the case of the death of a young police officer. When it appears he’s up against a conspiracy involving a rival inspector (Adrian Scarborough), the pathologist (Ron Donachie), the magistrate (Jay Villiers) and even the chief constable (Gareth Hale), Sullivan has no choice but to throw his lot in with Father Brown. But is even the priest in on the plot and about to betray him?
The final episode of the remarkably consistent and thoroughly enjoyable run of episodes contains the first time that I can remember in which the five series regulars are alone together in the same scene. It’s a really nice milestone, a quiet but effective touch with which to cap the third season of a show that has always been far too good for its daytime slot and which remains streets ahead of much more vaunted (and expensive) shows cluttering up the prime time slots.
The DVD and Blu-ray of Father Brown Series 3 will be released on January 26, 2015. The previous series are already available.