Judge Jason Panella can believe the impossible and the improbable.
"I can believe in the impossible but not the improbable."
G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown is in many ways the opposite of Sherlock Holmes. While Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective peeled cases apart with his keen logic, Chesterton's clerical crime-solver relied on his understanding of human nature and figure things out. This 1974 interpretation of Chesterton's Father Brown stories gives a heavy dose of the priest's method of sleuthing, with a load of problems along for the ride. As a result, Father Brown: The Complete Collection is a mixed bag, depending on what you're looking for.
If you're looking for an interesting take on the British mystery, you're in luck. The titular character (Kenneth More, Sink the Bismarck!) is a quiet, thoughtful Roman Catholic priest who has a knack for helping solve crimes. Unlike, say, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown tends to hang back and observe before his instincts point him in the right direction. This makes a lot of the episodes into howdunits rather than whodunits—the viewing audience is often tipped off to the culprit pretty early on, and the majority of the episode instead revolves around the priest figuring out how the crime happened. This often dips into theological territory, something I rather fancy. If you're concerned that these episodes are preachy, don't worry—these adaptations only skim the surface of the weighty issues Chesterton's stories explore. Speaking of Chesterton's stories, these adaptations are more in the spirit of the short stories than unadulterated translations—purists be warned.
If you're looking for a fast-paced mystery, you might want to steer clear of this collection. These episodes are uniformly slow, with little momentum and a whole lot of talking. Normally I wouldn't consider this a bad thing, but sometimes the conversations sound like actors reading lines at each other instead of, well, a genuine conversation. The stilted acting is thankfully sporadic, but it still happens enough that mars the overall integrity of the production. Kenneth More is always good, and he nails Brown as a curious, thoughtful soul. The various guest stars—including Graham Crowden (Waiting for God), Oliver Ford Davies (Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith), and Charles Dance (Game of Thrones)—often give solid performances, but this isn't always the case. The episodes are rife with hammy delivery and flubbed lines.
Released by Acorn Media, Father Brown: The Complete Collection sports one of the worst cases of "BBC look" I've seen (although it wasn't BBC). Interior scenes were filmed on video tape while exterior bits were shot on 16mm film, giving adjacent inside-outside scenes a drastically different feel. This difference in quality is given an unfortunate highlight in one of the early episodes: the show cuts to various people inside and out, and the different is absolutely jarring. This normally isn't something that bugs me, but the quality of the 1.33:1 full-frame transfer is atrocious—there are artefacts and noise galore. These 50-minute episodes feature a rough Dolby 2.0 Mono mix which buries its dialogue, and the lack of subtitles on these sets is disappointing. This collection repackages two previously available sets, both here with no change. As for extras, there are several cast filmographies and a short biography on Chesterton.
At its core, Father Brown is a good show. These episodes are nice counterpoints to the usual British-style mystery. Crummy technical aspects and some uneven acting hurt the final product quite a bit, however.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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