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'Father Brown': Faith, Crime and Solid Stories Make for a TV Hit

May 2, 2020 | By

It's a rare moment these days that Catholic priests are portrayed in a positive light on TV, or even just as a simple human being. Fortunately, we have the BBC's Father Brown to give us both.

The series, which launched in 2013, is loosely based on the character created by Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton. In adapting the Chesterton tales -- written between 1910 and the author's death in 1936 -- for a 21st-century audience, executive producers Will Trotter and John Yorke moved the time frame to the early 1950s and shifted the cleric from Essex in southeast England, to the fictional village of Kembleford in the picturesque Cotswolds in the southwest.

Season nine is set to launch in 2021.

Mark Williams plays Brown, whose gentle demeanor hides a sharp mind and a deep understanding of human nature, especially its frailty.

While the BBC's Father Brown isn't exactly like Chesterton's creation, the character is a solid, faithful, compassionate -- but not naive -- Catholic priest, who wear stoles, hears confessions, celebrates Mass and all that other stuff.

Last summer, at the traditionally biannual TV Critics Association Press Tour, I got to ask Williams and Trotter (beamed in by satellite from location at a stately home in the Cotswolds) just how, in this aggressively secular age, the show gets away with portraying Father Brown's faith.

Here's what they had to say:

MARK WILLIAMS: I think it's about storytelling, which is why people get involved so strongly. Because what we set out to do is tell a story. And that's what people seem to want very strongly is a good, involving story. So, in that sense it's not fake at all because all stories are fake themselves, but they speak of greater things. There are avatars for life, and that is what we try to do.

WILL TROTTER: And also Father Brown, he looks to redeem [criminals]. He wants to find out what the crime is, and who the criminal was, but he wants to know why they did it. So, that's the philosophical side.

Imagine that, you can have faith woven throughout a mainstream TV series, as long as you're telling a solid, involving story. Amazing!

Father Brown fans were dismayed in March when the series left its longtime home on Netflix to move entirely to newer streamer BritBox -- but that doesn't mean you need BritBox to see it. Some or all seasons are available on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

It's also in syndication to PBS stations around the country (check local listings to see if yours is included). One of them is Los Angeles' KCET (click here for the series' homepage).

I checked in with Dwayne Bright, KCET's senior director, programming and scheduling, to see why it purchased Father Brown. He said:

We air Father Brown simply because it is the kind of programming that KCET viewers love and loyally support. Especially during this time, a show like Father Brown is one of those cozy and nostalgic British crime series that features great storytelling and never fails to woo viewers, even after eight seasons, all of which have aired on KCET, as we continue our commitment to entertain our Southern California audiences with quality content.

If your PBS station isn't airing Father Brown, you can always pray -- and ask -- for it.

Image: BBC

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on our website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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