Monday, 16 January 2017

Father Brown or Grantchester? - G.K. Chesterton or James Runcie?


Well, the first detective priest was, of course, G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown. The debut book featuring the Roman Catholic priest in a series of short stories was "The Innocence of Father Brown." Published in 1911 and now, some 102 years later, the evergreen padre is back on our TV screen and has been since 2013. 

Chesterton based the character on the priest who helped the author convert to Catholicism, Father John O'Connor. I have no idea if said O'Connor was a short, stumpy large umbrella carrying cleric who dressed in ill-fitting priestly garb with a Capello Romano set neatly on his head, but Father Brown fits that description nicely.

Unlike that other great detective, the one who perhaps shines a brighter light in terms of fame and notoriety if not longevity, Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown does not deduct, deduce or in indeed use logic in solving his crimes. He uses his intuition, that and his time spent listening at the confessional where he, or so he reckons, hears more about the workings of the human mind than logic alone can gather.  To quote the man himself -  "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?"

G.K. Chesterton was known, largely due to his style of writing, as the Prince of Paradox. His work often featured sentences that are structured in such a fashion as to seem as if they have been turned inside out. "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered."

His work on Father Brown where he wrote in such idiosyncratic, often paradoxical and alliterative English provides the reader with stories that live on long after the time they were published. They really do, because of their quirky nature, beg to be read again. 

The current series, which first aired in 2013, starring Mark Williams (Mister Weasley in the Harry Potter films) is much like the 1974 TV series starring the late Kenneth More, loosely based on Chesterton's stories. The only minor issue I have is that the current show is set in the fifties, not the early part of the last century as the characters creator intended. Mark Williams does an impressive job as the priestly sleuth adding the right amount of peculiar mannerisms to offset the humour as supplied by the supporting cast who get to ham things up something rotten; the plots are, oddly enough, pretty good even if sometimes blindingly obvious. It is, by some odd, strange twist rather like another contemporary TV series, "Murder in Paradise" which also has splashes of amusing scenes. "Father Brown" is broadcast on daytime TV so is presumably aimed at girls like me who have a quiet moment to spare from the housework.

I like the show. It has to be viewed in the manner in which it was created - as light entertainment. As such I can see little fault with it. It might not, in fact, will not, Impress those seeking grim realism but then again I often find such shows grim but lacking any authentic realism just fictional tension.

Oh, yes, "Father Brown" is broadcast by the BBC.

Then there's "Grantchester."



No sooner did the Reverend Sydney Chambers appear in the first collection of short stories entitled "Sydney Chambers and the Shadow of Death" than reviewers and critics alike began by comparing it to G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown. In fairness, the comparison wasn't without merit. Father Brown and Sydney Chambers are both priests. One a Catholic the other Anglican. That, though, is pretty much the only likeness.

James Runcie, the author and creator of Sydney Chambers and the whole Grantchester concept writes nothing like Chesterton. His is not a revamp of a long established character given new blood, a make-over as it were. No, his dog-collared investigator is far more logical in his thinking than his Catholic counterpart, far more deductive. Yes, this too is a cosy, comfy world where violence isn't served up rare, with blood for sauce and a rising body count. The murders committed are more Christie than Chandler.

The first Father Brown as published, as stated above, in 1911. The first Sydney Chambers in 2012. One hundred years between the two. Father Brown was based on a priest Chesterton new and owed so much to whereas James Runcie's Chambers is based on his father, the deceased Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

Grantchester has soul rather than humour. It wears a serious face providing human relationships rather than a comedic, tongue in cheek, set of stories. Not only does the show have romance there is the sometimes strained relationship between Canon Chambers and his police detective and pub drinking friend Inspector Geordie Keating. These tensions produce a very different feel to that of "Father Brown."

Chesterton's prose style is rightly much revered. Runcie is very different but no slouch. His style has a certain elegance about it that probably comes from his love and respect for his father,  a man who did his job with a quiet dignity.

Again, I like the show. I enjoy the way the relationships create a certain frisson between characters. I find the camaraderie between Chambers and Keating both intriguing and believable. In many ways the are two sides of the same coin. Both men are flawed.  Both men are basically honest. Yet, at times their friendship is strained when one sees one way of doing things whilst the other favours the reverse. It makes for entertaining viewing. Yes, it too is cosy crime but this should not lessen enjoyment.

And of course, Grantchester is broadcast by ITV.

So then, which is best?

"The Fall" and "Shetland" are two very dark, very real, gritty police dramas. "The Fall" was shown on the BBC whilst "Shetland" was ITV. Exactly the same as "Father Brown" and "Grantchester."  I enjoyed the realism of these shows for they contained sufficent police procedure, you know, the boring paperwork stuff, to grant them authenticity. I like "Father Brown" and "Grantchester" equally as they provide the prefect antidote to "The Fall" and "Shetland."

Yes, it is possible to like two different genres at the same time just as it is possible to like "Father Brown" and "Grantchester." I do.




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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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