Thursday, 24 January 2013

On the Box

"Call the Midwife" is back for a second series, and just as good as before. While it has a central focus in the character of Jenny, it is also very much an ensemble piece, with all the actors having some of the stories focused on them. The framing device, where the older Jenny speaks as a voiceover is also very good, as it draws the viewer in, it is the older Jenny speaking about her life directly to you, the viewer. And it is never sugar coated and sentimental; it has a gritty edge to it in its realist depiction of the 1950s.

But nor does it just present life then as grim - the young midwives go to the cinema, to dances; this is very much a complete "slice of life" with all the good and bad times shown. And although it deals with issues - a battered wife, prostitution, etc, it doesn't have the feel of being issue driven, but character driven, which is very much to its advantage. It can have you on the edge of your seat one moment, and relaxing at the humour in the next. And it doesn't feel like a period drama, which can be fatal to a suspension of belief.

"Father Brown" is buried in the middle of the day, and perhaps a good thing. It tranposes the Father Brown stories to a 1950s rural setting from the original Edwardian setting, but it is more picture-postcard Midsomer Murders territory. Mark Williams as Father Brown portrays a Father Brown very well, but he is not the Father Brown of the Chesterton stories.

This Father Brown, despite the blurb, is not a slightly crumpled, shambolic and mild-mannered Catholic priest. Instead, he pursues the criminals doggedly, and his cassock always seems neat and tidy, and mostly he preaches at the criminals, telling them to confess their sin. It's a far cry from the original stories, where he comes across as slightly absent minded, muddled, but surprises by showing that he is really sharp as a razor in knowing who the criminal is.

In the original stories, that's because of his understanding of human nature; in this series, he's just another detective looking for clues. And while the titles of the stories may be the same, they are just pegs to hang largely very different stories upon. "The Eye of Apollo" was a creditable enough story, for example, taking a swipe at New Age thinking, but it wasn't a patch on the original, where the murder is committed - but the killer is seen at the time of the murder chanting on a balcony, hands upraised, in front of a street full of pedestrians looking up at him.

That's the kind of paradox that Chesterton did so well, and if you want to find how Father Brown knew from the start that he was the murderer (and it all makes perfect sense; Chesterton plays fair and you are even told enough to see the events unfold exactly as Father Brown does), either read the short story, or watch the earlier version (on DVD).

In that earlier series (filmed in 1974), Kenneth More plays Father Brown, and he does so perfectly, just the way Father Brown is portrayed in the books. Only lightly changed, the stories by G.K. Chesterton are followed quite faithfully, and it is a very good series. This new upstart just does not compare.

The original story can be read for free at:

I like "Lewis" and in its latest series, it's still providing well thought out crime puzzles against the backdrop of Oxford. I'm not too keen on the two part format, with one part one week, and the follow up the week after.

That made sense with some series - the original Adam Dalgliesh stories starring Roy Marsden, for example, went over a period of three weeks, and was paced accordingly. That worked well, and a three hour detective drama is probably a bit overlong for one sitting. But two episodes of one hour long could quite easily be fitted as one of two hours, and the only rationale I can think is scheduling.

"Death in Paradise" is in its second series, and it's on top form. It plays fair with the viewer. All the clues are there, and it is question of whether you can make than imaginative leap and bring them all together. At one point in each episode, Ben Miller as DI Richard Poole always does this, and it is remarkable how all the little bits and pieces mesh together like a jigsaw so that we can see the whole picture.

Ben Miller gives a wonderful performance as this somewhat stiff Englishman (always in a suit on duty), a fish out of water who just doesn't want to fit in, but who also has a dry sense of humour. His working relationship with his second in command, Sara Martins playing Camille Bordey is also excellent, and both actors have very good lines which they bounce off each other. It's definitely a good series, not played out - just on its second season - and refreshingly different from the ones based in England.

1 comment:

Zoompad said...

I have never read any of the Father Brown books yet, but after reading this I think I will do so, thanks.