Seeing as how I often involuntarily rise with the lark, when dusk approaches I tend to be tired, so I take a trip to Kembleford where Father Brown lives. Chesterton’s detective-priest might seem utterly dated today but this adaptation, while preserving the setting, modernises some of the attitudes. As the parish priest of Kembleford, a village where the murder rate is so extraordinarily high it’s a wonder they have any inhabitants left, Father Brown manages to insert himself into every investigation and inevitably finds clues the police overlook in order to crack the case. A priest makes an unlikely detective but they do have things in common: like detectives they hear confessions and they have a pass to situations where the rest of us can’t go. They are also present at the end of life.
The plots are highly improbable and most of the characters cardboard cutouts, but what makes this watchable is the character of Father Brown. The central character is done just right by Mark Williams of The Fast Show (also Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series.) He reminds me of the recently-deceased Rabbi Lionel Blue:
Though of different faiths they both exhibit the same patient, understanding manner; the same humility, the same essential faith. Father Brown’s belief in the potential of every human being for redemption causes him to stand alongside criminals and victims alike; a great antidote to these days of tabloid recrimination.
The episode where the character’s strength hit me most is The Eagle and the Daw, where Father Brown is wrongly accused of murder. Instead of ranting about his innocence he sits patiently in his cell and waits for the outcome to unfold, even though these are still the days of capital punishment and the stakes are high. Then when he is, inevitably, exonerated – and solves the case to boot – everyone gathers round to congratulate him. But instead of lapping it all up he tells this story:
Once there was a jackdaw who was very vain. He watched an eagle one day, soaring in the air. ‘I can do that,’ said the jackdaw. He watched the eagle swoop down on a baby lamb and carry it off into the sky. ‘I can do that, easy,’ said the jackdaw, and he flapped his wings and flew high into the air. He hovered over the flock, then swooped on a baby lamb and stuck his claws into it. But he didn’t have the eagle’s strength so no matter how much he flapped his wings he couldn’t lift the lamb off the ground. Then the farmer came along, caught him and put him in a cage for his children. And there the jackdaw stayed.
There’s no vanity whatsoever in the character of Father Brown: he has no concern for his appearance, nor for social status. Sometimes I wish I could be like that too – but it’s a bit of a tall order. Still, inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places…
Here’s the latest episode:
PS Like the title? See what I did there?