When one thinks of G.K. Chesterton, one thinks of intense, traditional Catholicism, brilliant logic, and an amazing intellect. When one thinks of the British Broadcasting Corporation, one probably thinks of the numerous internationally famous shows that they have hosted, such as Doctor Who or The Office…beacons of intellectual rigor as you can see.
So, when I found that BBC was hosting a show following a crime-solving priest that was the creation of G.K. Chesterton, I was highly skeptical that it would be any good. After all, how could the same network that hosts The Office, the least entertaining show on television, host a decent adaptation of a body of work that was created by a hard-core Catholic? It seems like an absurd statement, except for the fact that I have seen another good show about Catholicism by BBC. You can find that review here.
However, I realize that the network has little involvement in the creation of the show. They decide what gets aired, sure, but they do not create the shows themselves. That responsibility falls to whatever studio is in charge of making the show. So, I gave the show a chance.
At first, I was not much of a fan. I remember reading some Father Brown Mysteries when I was in high school and I never quite got into them. And, since the show was advertised as a mystery in post-World War II England, it begged to be compared to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and I have been a fan of Geraldine McEwan’s Marple for quite some time. Add to that the fact that they are both about older characters who are wise and knowledgeable about a whole host of subjects, and there is no way I could keep myself from the comparison. But that is not the comparison to make.
The Father Brown Mysteries are not focused on the mystery. They are focused on the characters and the theological points to be made. The Miss Marple Mysteries are mysteries to the core. They sprinkle clues for the keen observer to pick up on, whereas, in Father Brown, the writers are free to throw hard curve-balls at the audience and the murderer is hardly ever the person you suspect.
The better comparison would be to the original source material. So how did it hold up? In my personal opinion, as someone who only read a few of the Father Brown mysteries, it does the characters justice. You get to see Father Brown being a priest, which is his job as a pastor of a parish. He has Confession, Masses, funerals, and weddings, and gives last Rites. He is also the chaplain at a hospital and visits the seminary and the convent. He gives spiritual and moral guidance to those in need, e.g. the killers and the victims of various crimes.
There are also side characters I find interesting. Lady Felicia is somewhat fun to watch, especially since she, more often than not, finds the dead bodies and screams, which has become a bit of a running gag on the show. Even after three seasons of finding dead bodies, she still reacts just as badly to see them as she was in the pilot episode.
There is Mrs. McCarthy, the parish secretary. She is locked in a game of one-upping Lady Felicia, who reciprocates. There is Sid who is Lady Felicia’s driver and does odd jobs around the town, as well as helping Father Brown to solve the cases.
And, lastly, there are a series of police inspectors who cycle through, each more annoyed with Father Brown’s insistence on being involved in the investigation than the last. The progression has been interesting. The first inspector, Inspector Valentine, had a somewhat respectful working relationship with Father Brown. The next inspector, Sergeant Sullivan, was more fed-up with Father Brown’s meddling. And the next one, the one that I am currently watching—Inspector Mallory—is openly antagonistic to Father Brown and religion in general.
This could be an analogy for the relationship between Church and State. In the 1800s, we had an Inspector Valentine type of relationship. The State and the Church mostly kept out of each other’s business. In the 1900s, the state became more tired of the Church and hoped that it would quit talking about all of this business about heaven and hell. And, now, in the 21st century, people are essentially rewarded for slandering the Church and speaking out against it.
Now, I do not insist that fictional heroes all share my faith, but I do hope that if people decide to put a bit of Catholicism into their work, that they treat it with respect. It is refreshing to see that, even in the 21st century, there are still works of fiction that can be respectful of one’s religion.