The BBC’s Father Brown is an admirable addition to the proud tradition of British crime dramas.
It’s set in the idyllic village of Kembleford, where roughly three quarters of residents sit in the House of Lords. No one seems to mind that the leading cause of death is bludgeoning or that the police come dangerously close to hanging innocents at least once a week. The economy is comprised entirely of bake sales and inheritance taxes, which are plentiful, given the volume of aristocrats and the high rate of bludgeoning.
Father Brown is just as dumpy and pleasant as Chesterton devotees will remember. And he is, quite remarkably, just as brilliant. All the clues are laid out plainly along the way, so a clever viewer can solve the crime apace with Father Brown. He lacks the original character’s wit, but we can hardly blame television writers for failing to match the Prince of Paradox. No matter: at least the whimsy remains intact. (One particular culprit heads a New Age cult of sun-worshippers; one victim keeps an Indian hermit in residence at his estate.)
Alas, the BBC’s in-house theologians have rather dropped the ball. It’s slightly unbelievable, for instance, that Father Brown would balk at the idea of performing an exorcism on a haunted house.
“I’m sure there’s a rational explanation,” he sneers at the homeowner. But the family hears strange noises, she pleads. Things move on their own. “I’ll give your house a blessing,” Father Brown snaps, “but there are no such things as ghosts.”
That’s true, from a doctrinal perspective. The Church does not teach that ghosts exist. Still, the tell-tale signs of haunting (bumps in the night and all that) could certainly mean the house is under demonic oppression. No decent priest – and certainly not one that sprang fully formed from Chesterton’s skull – would dismiss the idea of evil spirits who prowl about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.
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