Father Brown was a creation of G K Chesterton, first appearing in The Blue Cross in 1910 and then going on to appear in enough short stories to fill up five collections (with a few extra as well). He has appeared on screen before, most notably in the UK as played by Kenneth More on TV in 1974 and by Andrew Sachs on radio in the mid-1980s. I would imagine if you asked the (well-informed) man in the street to name five classic detectives, the good Father would probably be fourth or fifth on the list, depending on whether the person in question counted Watson. But the character has been absent from the screen for a long time – enter the BBC and Mark Williams.
In a slightly odd bit of scheduling, due presumably as it’s been financed by the BBC daytime TV department, a series of ten fifty minute episodes of Father Brown are being shown over a fortnight in the middle of the afternoon. I thought it would be interesting to have a look at these via the blog as I have little experience with Father Brown and Chesterton. So, what did I think of the first instalment of the priest’s adventures – and the short story that it was based on?
Right, apologies for the lack of recent posts – been incapacitated for a short while and haven’t been near a computer and haven’t had the inclination to read much either. But things are starting to look normal again, so off we go again. Coming soon are book reviews of The Bull Slayer by Bruce MacBain, Murder In The Maze by J J Connington and some television reviews as well. But to start off, I thought I’d resurrect a once-tried idea, the multimedia review.
So, a little background on my past experience of Father Brown – not a lot, basically. I’ve read bits and bobs, mostly from the first collection, but the stories never leapt out at me. The only memory that leaps out is that “The Invisible Man”, regarded it seems as the classic, was to me a pile of nonsense, with a “clever” method that would not have worked in a million years. So I never persevered with the good Father.
I didn’t exactly have the highest hopes for the show – tucked away in the middle of the afternoon – there’s always the feeling that it’s there because it wasn’t good enough for prime-time. Well, you can dismiss that thought right now.
This was rather lovely. It was a classic-style mystery plot, with suspects, a motive and some engaging (if not desperately deep) characters. The killer was well-hidden, although quite easy to guess in a last-man-standing sort of a way. I thought Mark Williams did an excellent job as the lead – very engaging – and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
The fascinating bit about this episode though, is the differences to the short story. If you’ve read the short story, concerning the village cad whose head is smashed in with a hammer so completely that only the village blacksmith could have been strong enough to do, except he has an ironclad alibi. The story has a simple-but-clever way round the “impossibility”, although, on re-reading it, there’s a bit of a cheat in omitting something from the narrative the first time through. But to be fair, Father Brown is an intuitive sleuth, rather than a deductive one (and yes, I do know it’s supposed to be inductive, apparently), and the story is written in a fascinating style, so one can easily overlook this niggle.
The television episode, to last fifty minutes, has to expand the story immensely. The victim’s “affair” with the blacksmith’s wife is expanded on, the village weirdo metamorphoses into a much more important character, and some additional potential villains are introduced as well. But what I found most fascinating is that the “only the blacksmith could have done it” aspect is removed, effectively removing the only thing that really resembles a clue. Similarly, there is an intimation that no-one else was near the victim when he died without ever really saying it clearly. Came across as slightly odd.
So, to sum up, a highly enjoyable hour-ish of television, and I’ll certainly be back for the rest of the series. As for the short story – I think it’s safe to say that I admired it for what it is, but, to be honest, I enjoyed the TV episode more. That’s probably blasphemy, so I’m off to burn in hell now. Bye!
Oh, and while I’m here – while I’m doing a lot of TV reviews at the moment, I doubt I’ll get round to Ripper Street. But from what I’ve seen so far, Father Brown would be a much more pleasant way to spend Sunday evening…