Doc On The Box – Father Brown – Episodes 2 to 4

Father BrownAfter the discussion generated by my first post on the new BBC Father Brown series, I thought I’d have a look at the remaining episodes, alongside their source material, in chunks of three (because there are nine left to look at – do the maths).

The general consensus of opinion seems to be agreed that the original Father Brown stories are next-to-impossible to adapt faithfully as 50 minute television episodes. The question arises is whether the current BBC series, with its fixed location (an un-named (?) Cotswold village and recurring cast of central characters, is doing Chesterton justice.

Episode 2: The Flying Stars

Father Brown is invited to a get-together put on by a theatrical family. But soon the mother of the clan is found dead in the water and the priceless Flying Stars, a necklace, is under threat from attempted theft in the middle of a play.

OK, the play is weird, but that’s about the only thing remaining from the short story. The source material isn’t great here and there’s much that has had to be changed. Brown’s literary friend Flambeau, the villain of the piece, is missing completely – fair enough, as there is no way an international jewel thief would have fitted in here. Likewise, the death of the mother occurs, from natural causes, a few months before the start of the story. Here, it becomes murder, which adds more oomph to the story, but does make the part where the play is put on in memory of her very strange indeed.

The killer in the TV version is incredibly obvious, but I think there are enough details in the motive to fox a lot of viewers, and full credit for sticking the solution right under our noses early on without us noticing. Oh, and Sid, whatever his job is, takes a bit of credit for not nodding wisely at one of Brown’s platitudes but speaking his mind instead.

Overall – TV show better than the story.

Episode 3: The Wrong Shape

Apart from the Indian poetry bit, this could be a different story. The things that have the wrong shape are different, what is going on is almost completely different and to be honest, the TV version felt padded and drawn out.

This is probably the weakest story so far of the TV series, and the short story is much better.

Episode 4: The Man In The Tree

A semi-naked man is found unconscious in a tree, having been thrown from a passing train. Father Brown and Inspector Valentine spend an age barking up different wrong trees until they finally hear what this viewer has been shouting at the screen since about five minutes in. The state that the body is (unnecessarily, really) found in gives the game away far too quickly.

Nice to see a bit of character development on Father Brown’s maid Suzie, but Sid takes a bit of a plummet down the stereotypical charming rogue route.

As far as I can see, this is an original tale – bit early to be starting that – but that means no excuses for the massively padded plot.

Finally, let me just praise the cast though – if it wasn’t for them, in particular Mark Williams, Hugo Speer and Sorcha Cusack, then the obvious plots might be getting a bit annoying. Yes, I can see why the purists would be annoyed, but let’s hope that this brings new readers to the stories.

Anyway, I’ll be back in a few days with the next three episodes: The Eye Of Apollo and two new stories, I think, The Bride of Christ and The Devil’s Dust.


  1. No new reader would find anything in Chesterton (apart from the titles and the name of Father Brown) remotely similar to this John Major vision of charming English villages. It creaks, and it travesties. It is not an adaptation, it is a defacement.


      • Well I think Charles’ view is a bit strong. (I’d agree that the setting is anodyne, but Father Brown behaved as I hoped, at least in episode 1) Bad or loose adaptations don’t diminish the original. I suppose it means a faithful adaptation is less likely to get made, but that seems an impossible task anyway.

        Still, I’m not sure whether it will get people reading the originals. I do agree with Charles’ main point: if new readers pick them up expecting Miss Marple, they’re liable to be disappointed. And it’s very hard to enjoy something objectively when it turns out to be very different from what you were expecting.


      • True, but I can’t see any other way of publicising the stories that would be as effective as putting strange versions of them on television – I think faithful versions, of these stories at least, really wouldn’t work, with the possible exception of The Wrong Shape


      • But do they need publicising? I think the stories can take care of themselves. If they don’t get read, so be it.

        As for the series: I quite enjoyed episode 1, and I’m looking forward to the original episodes (I’d rather have a new mystery to watch!) But I always wonder why they don’t create a new character and entirely new plots, since they’re 90% of the way there already.

        And it’s not as bad as Blandings! That WAS upsetting.


  2. Honestly, I can’t say I’m very interested in this series after the first episode. I might watch another episode or two but I won’t go out of my way to find them.


  3. As I understand it the ratio of adaptations to original stories is 5:5 but it is interesting that it doesn’t seem to have made much difference it making the stories substantial enough to fill the slot. What I do welcome is drama rather than just soaps being made for daytime TV so I hope there will be more attempts.


  4. It’s not so much the changes to GKC that rankle (I knew that they wouldn’t be terribly close to the originals), but the fact that I really don’t think that the scripts are terribly good. The Alec Guinness film isn’t notably close to the letter of the stories, but it does evoke their spirit and that of the character very well. It’s clever and witty and sharp, in contrast to the scripts of the telly series, which feel rather bland. It’s as if they’re scared of doing anything too difficult and thus frightening off the afternoon viewers.

    I understand that a lot of the religious details are wrong (what is this ancient Catholic Church doing in an English village?) But what annoys me is the fact that no-one involved in the writing of the show ever seems to have read or seen any whodunnits. They’re doing stuff that was done to death decades ago and expecting the audience not to see through it. The character of Inspector Valentine is also annoyingly written. He is harking back to the Lestrade of the Basil Rathbone Holmes movies. The BBC adaptions of Sayers, Allingham, Christie dating back to the 70’s all have smart policemen, who serve as a credible foil to the amateur detectives, but the current writers seem unaware of this, and think that making the police dumb somehow makes your detective look smarter. Valentine chases Brown away in every story, even though it should be obvious to him that the Priest is always right, and thus terribly useful to him.

    I DO enjoy the show, even with all of its faults, but it does feel overall like a case of ‘really must try harder’.


    • The more I think about it, this is about what I feel too. I’ve maybe been too generous towards it due to the obvious low budget but I am hoping that the scripts will improve. There’s nothing wrong with using an old chestnut – see the trivial locked room in this week’s Death In Paradise – but the plots need more depth.


  5. The difference between this and DEATH IN PARADISE is quite marked. DIP has a definite structure, where information is passed to you at just the right pace. It’s a game with the viewer, giving you just enough info to work it out with the on-screen detectives, but keeping vital details until close to the end, to make the denoument more satisfying. FATHER BROWN seems more like a soap opera, with less obvious structure.


  6. Thanks for the mention!

    I’m in the ‘mostly harmless but quite entertaining’ camp. I think the low point has been The Flying Stars, which had that excruciating play (which is, to be fair, excruciating in the original story) and really odd fades between scenes. The Wrong Shape was interesting, I thought, and had a bit more emotional oomph.

    To add weight to Skywatcher’s point, the show is by a team that usually does daytime soaps.

    I’m seeing the religious details get a lot of criticism – not just the Catholic parish church in an English village, but also things such as head coverings (or lack of them) in church and Brown needing to read during a service. Brown’s (admittedly rather modern) political correctness is also coming in for a bashing.

    If the show brings Chesterton some new readers – great. They’ll probably be less surprised than people buying the BBC Books ‘Sherlock’ editions of Conan Doyle.

    (The village is Kembleford, by the way).


  7. Its as if the English Reformation never happened. If Father Brown was intended to be an “Anglo Catholic” I could probably overlook it, but tbh an avuncular Catholic Priest at the heart of an idyllic rural English village?… Don’t make me laugh. It’s as if this whole series was written by someone with absolutely no idea at all of English history or tradition


  8. Do you have any idea what the poem was that violet read by her daughters grave at the end of the episode the wrong shape? Thank you


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