In 1911 G.K. Chesterton published his first series of short stories about the priest-detective Father Brown. Over a half a century later, the BBC adapted the character for television, and three decades after that, the final six episodes of BBC the series have made it to DVD in the States.
The series stars Kenneth More as Chesterton's famed detective, with Dennis Burgess as Brown's sidekick, Flambeau. While I will always have a soft spot for Alec Guinness's portrayal of the detective, More is wonderful in the role as well. He truly seems one with the role and the cassock, fully understanding the wit that resides within Chesterton's hero.
For those who are unfamiliar with the character, Father Brown is, as his title would suggest, a priest who, for whatever reason, constantly finds himself embroiled in some sort of mysterious intrigue. He tends to play his cards quite close to his vest, and only gives obtuse answers and questions until he is ready to reveal whodunit. At times Brown seems to be obtuse on purpose, and at another moments he simply seems daft; it is never quite clear whether Brown is just playing with everyone around him. Kenneth More is exceptionally good in the role at walking this fine line.
The majority of the episodes in Set 2 eschew the standard murder mystery formula that has someone die within the first five minutes and leave the rest of the episode for the detective to solve the crime. Rather, the episodes spend a great deal of time on the side characters in each episode. It is often nearly halfway through an episode or later before a crime actually occurs.
By treating the episodes in this manner, wonderful performances are allowed for by those who will meet their demise. In particular, Bernard Lee (the first “M” in the James Bond movies) as John Raggley in episode 2, “The Quick One,” is spectacular as the outspoken, hated, town malcontent. It is no surprise to anyone when he dies, but allowing the actor to rant up and down the screen for the first half of the show truly helps establish more character and a stronger feeling of time and place than a traditional murder mystery would.
Father Brown Set 2 contains six episodes, each approximately an hour long, all of which put Father Brown into new and different situations. One of the funniest of these is the first, “The Actor and the Alibi” which has Father Brown backstage at a theatre troupe. The discussion of actors, actresses, and entertainment in general provides the opportunity for more than a few knowing winks to the audience.
And truly, that is what Father Brown is all about — knowing winks. The series, like the character, is at turns smart, funny, and moderately exasperating in its desire to not reveal the solution. It is often impossible to figure out the answers ahead of time, which for armchair sleuths may be upsetting. However, the character of Father Brown, as well as the supporting cast, is often more than enough to hold the audience's attention, even if the mystery does not.
The video quality of the episodes tends to be quite good, though it is moderately disconcerting when the medium the episode was filmed on changes. For instance, in “The Actor and the Alibi” the scenes filmed on stage look completely different than those filmed backstage (it may be that backstage used video and on stage film). While both look fine separately, their juxtaposition can be quite jarring.
Despite any small concerns about the video quality, which are understandable in a 30-year-old television show, Father Brown Set 2 delivers everything expected of Chesterton's inimitable detective and is a good deal of fun to watch.