Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


FATHER BROWN. BBC, UK, 2013 to date. 35 episodes. Mark Williams, Sorcha Cusack, Nancy Carroll, Alex Price, Hugo Speer, Tom Chambers. Created by Rachel Flowerday and Tahin Guner. Inspired by the stories of G. K. Chesterton.

   So, Father Dowling — no, wait, this one is British and there is no cute nun — Father Brown, that’s right Father Brown, is watching this couple making out; Father Brown is climbing over a fence; Father Brown has been poisoned; Father Brown has a broken leg and is being held hostage by a killer policeman; Father Brown pretends madness to go undercover in an asylum; Father Brown is trapped beneath a castle in a dungeon; Father Brown has to stop a bomb …

   Father Brown (Mark Williams) has a nosy housekeeper (Sorcha Cusack), a randy aristocrat friend (Nancy Carroll), her semi-honest roguish chauffer (Alex Price), a full time parish in Kembleford in the Cotswolds (where there are more murders than Chicago and Miss Marple’s St. Mary’s Mead combined) at St. Mary’s, and two policeman whose lives he is the bane of (Hugo Speer and Tom Chambers who replaced him).

   Father Brown is tall, hardy, and about as meek as a truck driver.

   Father Brown wouldn’t know a paradox if it hit him with a lorry.

   They have actually adapted a few stories by Chesterton. Not that you would know it unless you looked at the title, the only thing vaguely resembling Chesterton.

   That awful television movie with Barnard Hughes was better than this. Walter Connally’s wholly miscast Father Brown was better. Kenneth More, seemingly miscast, was brilliant as was Alec Guiness, also seemingly miscast. Mark Williams is just miscast. It is difficult for a man his size to appear to be a meek, blinking, slightly pudgy, and unassuming priest with the power of an Old Testament prophet. This Father Brown has the power of a Jessica Fletcher.

   The time is the 1950’s, God knows why since the stories end twenty years before that. Father Brown, who traveled extensively in the stories, is a parish priest and served in WWII. He deals with ex-Nazis and refugees and once with radiation poisoning. He seldom leaves Kembleford and his church, St. Mary’s. No one much respects him. Flambeau has a British accent, they couldn’t be bothered to hire an actor who could at least fake a French accent.

   You know it isn’t Chesterton because communist and atheists tend to turn out to be innocent. You know it isn’t Agatha Christie because the young lovers almost never turn out to be the murderers.

   This Father Brown never rises to the occasion. He never blinks behind his spectacles while transformed into a figure of Biblical strength. He never simply observes because he knows human nature and intuits the truth. He is never for one instant of film Chesterton’s priest in anything but name.

   It’s an attractive enough series, and I might like it if it wasn’t the only Father Brown we will get. The actors are personable, and the mysteries no worse than usual, but of course it could be so much more, and instead it is, as I said, “Murder, He Prayed.”

   If you are not an admirer of Chesterton’s stories you may not get why I feel such rancor for this unassuming little series. Try to imagine though they made a situation comedy out of The Great Gatsby. Try imagining they cast Pee Wee Herman as Sherlock Holmes. Try to imagine that the only Shakespeare there was to read was the Lamb’s version.

   You are not going to get good television from people incapable of respecting their source. You are going to get this, a series that disappoints week after week, hints at Chesterton (admittedly not easy to film though the More series did it), but never fulfills the promise. You get what seldom happens on series shown on PBS, the lowest common denominator, just like network television.

   This one wasn’t even designed to be shown at night in England. It was an afternoon series according to Wikipedia.

   This might have worked despite all that if they respected the original in any way, if they understood what made Chesterton’s stories work, what made Father Brown a rival of Sherlock Holmes — the rival of Sherlock Holmes.

   This Father Brown isn’t even a rival of Jessica Fletcher.

   If you like it despite all that, fine. But don’t kid yourself that anyone connected to this ever read a single Father Brown story and understood it or what gave it power. Father Brown the comic book would be better.