Father Brown is a brand new BBC TV drama featuring G.K. Chesterton's legendary priest-detective. Oddly enough (at least, I thought it was odd to begin with) it is being shown in the afternoons, 10 episodes of 50 minutes shown on week-days for a fortnight, so most crime fans will be watching it via recordings or iPlayer, as I did with the first episode, The Hammer of God, based on one of the most celebrated stories in the canon.
This isn't the first time that TV has had a go at Father Brown. Kenneth More starred in 13 episodes in the 70s, but I was a student then and didn't watch them. Nor have I ever caught up with the DVDs, so if any reader of this blog has any views on whether that series is still watchable, I'd be glad to know.
What of the new series? Mark Williams plays Father Brown, and the regular cast includes Sorcha Cusack. The stories have been shifted into the 1950s, long after the originals were written, that is, and the setting is the Cotswolds, which is suitably photogenic. The Hammer of God is a long, long way from the graphic violence of Ripper Street, although it begins with a rather more explicit focus on the blacksmith's wife's adultery than you find in the original story, and the motive for the crime is not at all Chestertonian.
Purists may wince, but the question is, if you want to adapt these stories for the modern audience, how do you go about it? You have to look at what the writers were trying to do, and they have given an interesting insight into their approach. I felt that on the whole the writers did a good job. Okay, there was a bit of clunkiness in some of the scenes, and I'm surprised there wasn't more focus on paradox, which is at the heart of Chesterton's writing. But it was easy watching after a long working day, and it's just possible that Father Brown might become a guilty pleasure for a decent number of viewers -including me. In any case, it's really welcome that a writer of genuine distinction is being brought back into the limelight, even if he would be startled by some of what is being done with his work.