Monday, 31 December 2012

Father Brown BBC1 with Mark Williams PREVIEW

Mark Williams as Father Brown
Murder in the afternoon with Father Brown (Mark Williams). Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★ 

BBC1: starts Monday, 14 January, 2.10pm 

Story: Father Brown attends a tea party to celebrate a new church clock tower, presided over by his friend, Reverend Bohun. However, the serene atmosphere is shattered when the reverend's caddish brother Norman arrives, riling most of the guests.

This new period detective series featuring GK Chesterton's sleuthing priest Father Brown is as cosy as a cucumber sandwich at a tea party. The reason it is so light and bland seems to be that it is part of BBC1's new afternoon line-up, with 10 episodes scheduled to go out on consecutive weekdays.

It's an easy-going drama set in a safe sentimental past of steam trains, police cars with funny bells and Catholic priests who don't vociferously condemn homosexuality (Father Brown is way ahead of his time in this respect). Programme makers adore these inoffensive, twee shows set in English villages and shot through rose-tinted filters (Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, Poirot etc etc). The Beeb and ITV must find such picture-postcard dramas easy to sell to foreign markets.

Sam Hoare as Norman in Father Brown BBC1
Asking for trouble – Norman
The Hammer of God
Anyway, if afternoon audiences really enjoy period whodunits in which the characters have all the depth of a Cluedo suspect, then Father Brown should do well.

The first story is The Hammer of God and begins – where else? – at a church tea party. Father Brown is played by Mark Williams, who, though not short and stumpy like Chesterton's hero, has the right balance of humour and earnestness as the Catholic priest who 'doesn't look for mysteries, they look for me'. He's following in the cassocks of Alec Guinness and Kenneth More in taking the part.



The church tea party was murder
Brown's been invited to the do by the Anglican vicar, the Reverend Bohun, whose unsavoury brother Norman also turns up, though uninvited. Much of the plot is signposted in neon lights, so it's clear Norman is going to get bumped off, and within 15 minutes his skull is smashed with a blacksmith's hammer.

Sorcha Cusack, Mark Williams, Nancy Carroll
Mrs McCarthy, Father Brown and Lady Felicia
When the police turn up all the villagers suddenly look shifty, including Norman's gay lover, the Polish woman who was blackmailing him, the wife he had seduced and her husband, the blacksmith. The blacksmith's wife confesses and then retracts her confession, but it is up to Father Brown to prove her innocence and save her from the gallows.

Implausible way to kill someone
Working out who the culprit is should not have viewers straining their analytical faculties to breaking point, despite the killing itself being a tad implausible. The formula is simple – whoever looks shifty is not the killer; the person who is not shifty is the killer.

ITV1's Crime Stories was heavily criticised for some wobbly acting and its improvisational longueurs, but it was at least an attempt to do something new on daytime TV.

If the programme makers are targeting an older daytime audience here, then fine, everyone deserves to be catered for. But if you're going to make a show that is not just set in the past but feels as though it was made in the past, you wonder if anyone at Television Centre was tempted to just buy the old Kenneth More version from ITV, made in 1974, and shown that instead.

Cast: Mark Williams Father Brown, Adam Astill Reverend Bohun, Sam Hoare Norman, Bryony Afferson Elizabeth, Hugo Speer Inspector Valentine, Simeon Barry Sloane, Nancy Carroll Lady Felicia, Sorcha Cusack Mrs McCarthy, Kasia Koleczek Susie