Year Released: 2013 - Present
Starring: Mark Williams, Sorcha Cusack, Nancy Carroll, Alex Price
(45-50 min. per episode)
“Dust thou art to dust returnest
Was not spoken of the soul.” William Wadsworth Longfellow
Father Brown is more concerned with saving souls than solving mysteries, but he’s pretty darn good at each. The BBC series, like his reassuring presence, is as comforting as a cup of tea and a warm fireside, even if an alarming number of corpses litter the idyllic English countryside.
Based on the character created by G.K Chesterton, the series gives the books’ ascetic priest an eccentric sort of adopted family. After all, Chesterton, who converted to Catholicism in middle age, wasn’t vying in the TV ratings business. So, much like the World War II film chronicled in Their Finest, we have to create good cinema here, even if it means adding a few extraneous characters, augmenting the action, and adding more conflict and humor.
Enter Father Brown’s (Mark Williams) eccentric companions and sometimes fellow sleuths. Mrs. McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack), his harrumphing housekeeper, is an encyclopedia of local gossip, which the good father disdains, except when it helps him solve a case. And she makes “award winning scones,” too, a fact she reminds us of in almost every episode. But there’s a softer side to her, too, as we find out in one episode when a traveling magic man comes to town.
Lady Felicia Montague, (Nancy Carroll), ever elegant in her ubiquitous furs, even on summer’s day, has just enough of the superficial snob exterior to lure us into an easy stereotype, but she surprises us with a well concealed empathy as well as an earthiness, shall be say, not necessarily typical in the female gentry. Her titled husband is a presence alluded to but never seen, while Lady Felicia scours the scene for any eligible gents that catch her roving eye.
Her chauffeur, Sid (Alex Price), is more used to avoiding the law than assisting it, but he is drawn into detecting by Father Brown, who comes to depend on his youth and knowledge of the petty criminal world. In fact, one critic has called Sid “a bit of a grown up Artful Dodger.” He leans against a polished Rolls Royce with an unmatched languid flair. Like his employer, Ned is also on the lookout for romance, and seems particularly drawn to the Polish refugee who cleans for Father Brown.
Susie (Kasia Koleczek) may not speak the King’s English, but she manages to assert herself, ward off Ned’s untoward advances, and clean up any broken crockery or other untidy messes that invariably gather at the priest’s home and hearth. Too bad she’s always burning the roasts, but that seems to endear her to Mrs. McCarthy, who is always ready to save the day.
Part of the show’s charm is its setting, post WWII England, still reeling from that conflict, where the bicycle as a means of transport is as common as the car. Certainly that is true for Father Brown, who cycles from clue to clue, suspect to suspect, with a speed and determination belied by his less than athletic frame. Never without his country priest’s hat, which looks something like a bowler, or his umbrella, he rushes into danger without weapon or fear, knowing he has God with him.
Another distinguishing aspect of Father Brown is its singular lack of politically correct edginess. He is nothing like Grantchester’s Vicar Sidney Chambers, a scotch drinking smoker who loves jazz and is not unappreciative of the ladies, as human and tempted as the flock he leads. Nor is Father Brown “gorgeous with a smile as melting as his earnest blue eyes,” as we described Sidney in an earlier review.
Father Brown’s smile is more bemused than anything else, and his eyes merely twinkle behind his glasses. His temptations tend to be toward Mrs. M’s scones and other assorted sweets rather than married ex girlfriends or seductive jazz singers. And that in itself is rather reassuring.
Father Brown’s relations with the official police are rather aloof and adversarial. Both Inspector Valentine ( Hugo Speer) and Inspector Sullivan (Tom Chambers) who replaces him, have begrudging respect for the priest, but they never become co equals as say, Grantchester’s Geordie, who plays the role of older brother as well as fellow sleuth to the vicar.
Both of Father Brown’s detectives remain rather dour and repressed by the rules, like the earlier Inspector Jack Robinson in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. So far they do not reveal their more interesting and complex nature as Jack Robinson eventually does.
Perhaps Father Brown has enough other interesting characters surrounding him, so this development does not seem necessary to the writers. However, a detective a little less wooden would be a welcome addition.
It’s been a long day. You have been connected to your electric world interminably. The traffic, sirens, and screaming headlines of the day have frazzled your nerves.
Turn back time for a while and follow our unassuming priest as he ponders crime and salvation armed only with his faith and loving heart. It's a tonic for the soul.
We wonder which occurs more often – Mrs. McCarthy bragging about her award winning strawberry scones, or Father Brown pilfering the ones intended for some charity fete or festival.
Nevertheless, the only thing better than watching this delightful series, is watching it accompanied by a generous plateful of the delicious pastries.
Scones are not just for breakfast, but a wonderful way to end your day, as you salute the inconspicuous but ingenious Father Brown. And they taste just delicious dunked in a glass of wine, as well.
Strawberries and Cream Scones
- 1/2 cup strawberries (cut into 1/4 inch pieces)
- 2 cups cake flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 TB unsalted butter
- 2 tsp lemon or orange zest
- 1 cup heavy cream
1 Preheat oven to 400°. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter into small cubes and blend with a pastry blender until it resembles small peas. Add the zest and strawberries. Then slowly and gradually add the cream while mixing with a fork.
2 As soon as the flour starts to come together into a dough, remove from the bowl and form into a ball. Place on a lightly floured surface and knead gently four or five times. Then shape with your hands (or a rolling pin) into an 8x10" rectangle. Cut the rectangle lengthwise into two 4x10" rectangles. Cut each of those into 6 or 7 triangles and place on an ungreased baking sheet.
3 Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with softened butter, jam, creme fraiche or just as they are. Enjoy!