GK Chesterton

Father Brown S10 (BBC One) [2023]

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Father Brown has now been running for ten years, having made its BBC One afternoon debut in 2013 and continuing every year since, with the exception of 2021 when it was waylaid by COVID. Fortunately an earlier double length season means that despite being pared back to nine seasons to date, it still managed to reach the 100-episode landmark last year culminating in a joyous celebration bringing back many of the favourite characters for a curtain call set against a backdrop of fireworks. Along the way it’s even produced a spin-off series called Sister Boniface Mysteries for the BritBox streaming service.

One year on from that party, and Father Brown returns as one of those familiar, favourite landmarks of the New Year – but quite a lot has changed in the meantime. Not least is the scheduling, with the BBC eschewing the usual daily syndication of the ten episodes across two weeks, and opting instead to broadcast one episode a week on Friday afternoons. The other timeslots of the week are held by the BBC’s medical soap Doctors. It’s a strange change to make, and I’m not sure what the thinking is behind it, but on the other hand it does mean that January and February and even the start of March will now be graced with new Father Brown stories – and I for one am not complaining. For those who can’t wait, the entire series is already streaming on the BBC iPlayer, but we’ll be following the broadcast schedule.

There are also changes on the casting front, although naturally the show could not go on without Mark Williams in his role as GK Chesterton’s eponymous parish priest. John Burton also returns as reliable, long-suffering Sergeant Goodfellow. But beyond that, brace yourself for quite a shock, because Kembleford is not how you remember it! Sorcha Cusack has stepped away from her regular full-time role as parish housekeeper Mrs McCarthy, with the character moving back to Ireland permanently to be with her sister (a couple of absences in last year’s run of episodes had also been put down to visiting her family.)

Her absence makes a big impact, as the character had been part of the show ever since the very first episode in 2013. The first episode of the latest run sees Father Brown recruiting a replacement as parish secretary: the obvious candidate is Agnes Burns (Elizabeth Bennett) who is even more strict and disapproving than her predecessor, which immediately leads to problems. Meanwhile one of the unsuccessful applicants is Mrs Isabel Devine, played by Claudie Blakley, who is the very antithesis of Mrs McCarthy – disorganised and scatter-brained, and not even a regular at Mass. However she does have a remarkable enthusiasm for Father Brown’s crime solving role and passionately wants to gets involved and help out. Her application gets a subsequent boost when she saves Father Brown’s life.

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Father Brown S9 (BBC One) [2022]

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We always used to say that the arrival of a new series of the BBC’s Father Brown was one of the most reliable indicators of the end of the Christmas holiday period and the arrival of a brand New Year. Its absence at the start of 2021 was therefore a painful indicator of quite how dreadful the previous 12 months had been for everyone due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Filming on series 9 had been about to start when the first COVID cases arrived in the UK and the country went into lockdown, resulting in all TV production being suspended for months.

In a similar vein therefore, the return of GK Chesterton’s eponymous country priest to the afternoon schedules can be taken as joyous confirmation that everything is finally beginning to return to normal (bit-by-bit and omicron notwithstanding). A year later than originally intended, it was possible for the filming of series 9 of Father Brown to get underway and the results are now before us to warm our hearts at the start of 2022. And at first glance it seems reassuring familiar with few changes, the look and feel of the production very much as it was despite the onerous social distancing rules that had to be observed during production. There’s no obvious sign of those measures on the screen, and cast and crew are to be commended for producing another 10 polished instalments.

However it’s quickly apparent that something has changed, and I’m obliged to post a bit of a spoiler warning at this point. While I would never divulge the key details of individual stories (and never the who- or why-dunnit), this is something that might take long-time viewers by surprise and not something they wish to know ahead of time. However there’s no way of discussing the new run of stories without mentioning it, as it comes up almost right at the start of the first episodes and impacts everything that follows. So if you don’t want to know anything at all about series 9 before watching it then shut your browser now and only come back when you’re ready.

Okay? Got it? Then here we go with our overdue annual review of the latest season of Father Brown

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Father Brown S8 (BBC One) [2020]

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Father Brown continues to be one of the most reliable landmarks of the January TV scene, returning right on cue for a brand new season of ten episodes featuring Mark Williams as GK Chesterton’s eponymous country priest, Sorcha Cusack as parish housekeeper Mrs McCarthy and Emer Kenny as local socialite Bunty Windermere, together with Jack Deam as the irascible Inspector Mallory and John Burton as reliable, long-suffering Sergeant Goodfellow.

That’s the same regular cast as last year, and indeed this is now surely the most stable line-up that the series has enjoyed throughout its eight years of production. But for those pining over the loss of old favourites such as Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll) and Sid Carter (played by Alex Price) then it’s still worth tuning in for some welcome cameo appearances. And stay tuned to the end of the run, because word has it that it’s getting unexpectedly crowded down at Kembleford Police Station, with an even more surprising returnee popping up.

With little else to add to last year’s observations (nothing ever really significantly changes in middle England in the 1950s, after all), it’s perhaps best just to get straight on with a look at the new episodes comprising the 2020 season. As ever, the accompanying notes do reveal some details of the episode in question that you may wish to avoid until after viewing, but you can be assured that we would never be so thoughtless as to give away the actual whodunnit! Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S7 (BBC One) [2019]

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Christmas and New Year is all over: the presents have been put away, the tree is outside waiting to be recycled, and the decorations are back in the attic awaiting their annual recall in December. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for a new ten-part series of Father Brown on the BBC daytime schedules!

Naturally Mark Williams returns in the title role as the sleuthing cleric, aided once again by his parish secretary and general busybody Bridgette McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack) in the face of opposition from the local police Inspector Gerry Mallory (Jack Deam) with Sergeant Daniel Goodfellow (John Burton) discretely treading the middle ground. Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S6 (BBC One) [2018]

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It’s that time of year again! The end of the Christmas and New Year holiday season means that Father Brown is back in business once more, with a new series in the daytime schedules on BBC One.

Last year’s run proved quite contentious, as a quick look back at the comments on our series five review will confirm. Many fans were deeply disappointed by the departure of two of the series regulars, Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll) and Sid Carter (Alex Price) and found it hard to warm to newcomer Bunty (Emer Kenny). Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S5 (BBC One) [2017]

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fatherbrownFrom humble beginnings tucked away in the daytime schedules back in 2013, it seems that Father Brown has slowly become a genuine break out hit for the BBC, boosted by digital channel reruns in prime time on UKTV and healthy overseas sales to the United States and South Africa. It’s now returned for its fifth season, with 15 episodes including a prestigious Christmas special that was screened on the day before Christmas Eve and the rest following on a week later beginning on the public holiday after New Year.

Things are much the same in Kembleford where Father Brown (Mark Williams) serves as the local Roman Catholic priest aided by parish secretary and busybody Bridgette McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack). The curate is still getting caught up in various local crimes that bring him into contact (and conflict) with the insufferable local senior police Inspector Mallory (Jack Deam). This time, Mallory’s longtime sidekick Sergeant Goodfellow (John Burton) gets promoted to the regular cast, but missing from action is loveable black market ‘spiv’ Sid Carter – we don’t find out the fictional reason for his absence until well into the new series (see “The Sins of Others”), but actor Alex Price has been cast as Draco Malfoy in the West End production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Sid was chauffeur to local socialite Lady Felicia (Nancy Carroll) and she too only appears in the first two episodes of this latest run before departing to join her husband who has been newly promoted to a top colonial government post in Rhodesia. Fortunately her wayward niece Bunty (Emer Kenny) arrives just in time to effectively take over both Lady Felicia’s and Sid’s plot functions in their respective absences. Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S4 (BBC One) [2016]

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The start of a brand new year has these days become somewhat synonymous with the delivery of a freshly baked batch of stories for BBC One’s Father Brown daytime television series, and happily 2016 hasn’t let us down in that regard.

father-brownAfter a supersized run last year, this year sees a return to the regular ten episode stint. Very little has changed in Kembleford in the intervening 12 months and the show quickly settles into the same comfortable cosy feel with Mark Williams back as the eponymous clergyman, Sorcha Cusack returning as his parish secretary Mrs McCarthy and Nancy Carroll as local socialite Lady Felicia, along with Alex Price as her chauffeur (and the local good-natured spiv) Sid.

The one change to the line-up this year comes in the form of yet another new face at the police station, with Jack Deam arriving as Inspector Mallory. There’s no handover or explanation as to why he’s taken over from his predecessor (Inspector Sullivan, who had been played by Tom Chambers) but perhaps the events of the final episode of season three – in which Sullivan was forced to go on the run after being framed of the murder of a young PC and only saved by Father Brown’s snooping – speak for themselves as to why the character has moved on. In any case, the new boy in the inspector’s office is a determinedly odious character pretty much loathed by everyone including his own sergeant, so it seems certain that there will be no thawing out in relations or any hint of grudging respect developing between Mallory and Brown’s Scooby gang anytime soon.

Otherwise though things are so much the same as they ever were that there is very little to say in a review of the latest series that hasn’t been covered already by my individual pieces on the very first episode in 2013 and then about series two and series three in turn. In summary, while purists of the GK Chesterton short stories may well take serious umbrage at the liberties needed to reformat Father Brown for an ongoing television series, for most people these should be a delightful bit of classy gentle and genteel entertainment, and a real jewel of the otherwise largely tat-filled daytime TV schedules.

Even though there’s not much else to add in terms of a review, I’ll nonetheless carry on a Taking The Short View tradition by producing instead a thumbnail episode guide of the latest 2016 stories for handy reference. It contains some basic plot details of each story but no whodunnits. Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S3 (BBC One) [2015]

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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.

Father BrownMark 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: Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown S2 (BBC One) [2014]

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While die hard purist fans of GK Chesterton might not all agree, I’ve been very pleased to see his Father Brown creation return in a second eponymous season of ten episodes in the daytime BBC One schedule.

fatherbrownStory-wise I think we’ll just say that the show has veered off from any genuine fidelity to Chesterton’s original short stories in favour of the TV production practicalities of giving the priest a stable base in the Cotswolds and a recurring supporting ensemble cast. If you can get around these liberties then what you’re left with is a very nice and pleasant cosy murder mystery series, albeit one that actually has more heart and head under the surface than you’d usually expect from such apparently easy-going fare. Read the rest of this entry »

Father Brown – The Hammer of God (BBC1) [2013]

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I’ve never been much of a devotee of GK Chesterton’s Catholic cleric detective, but I did become rather partial to the BBC Radio 4 adaptations which starred Andrew Sachs in the title role. Sachs, rather than Chesterton, is therefore my base reference for the character and the stories.

fatherbrownThe BBC have now made a new ten-part series of Father Brown stories, with Mark Williams (of the Harry Potter films and more recently seen on TV as Rory’s dad in Doctor Who) as Father Brown. He’s not exactly how I saw the character – he’s rather more down to earth, and rather than being genteel and self-effacing to the point of invisibility, this Father Brown is quite forthright and even downright pushy when he needs to be. Fear not, it’s nowhere near as extreme as Margaret Rutherford’s reinterpretation of Miss Marple from the Agatha Christie version – but it’s a definite shift from the source stories that won’t be welcomed by the strictest Chesterton adherents. Read the rest of this entry »