The ever popular daytime crime drama Father Brown returns for an eleventh series. Mark Williams returns as the crime busting priest with guest cast including Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who, The Hobbit), Ingrid Oliver (Watson and Oliver, Doctor Who), Ian Gelder (Game of Thrones, His Dark Materials) and John Light (Around the World in 80 Days, Murder in Provence). Lorna Watson also returns as Sister Boniface, reuniting the fan favourite crime solving duo.
Series 11 picks up in 1955 where Chief Inspector Sullivan (Tom Chambers) and Mrs Devine (Claudie Blakley) have grown closer since we saw them last. Something which hasn’t escaped the notice of Father Brown (Mark Williams) and Brenda (Ruby-May Martinwood).
With a food fayre to die for, a real life crime at a crime writing festival and a village rivalry that turns deadly at the local Olimpicks, there’s plenty for the gang to be busy with. Father Brown and Sister Boniface become embroiled in a murder at an arts and crafts fair, while Brenda takes a trip in time to face ghosts from her past when an old friend, Dr McClurgy (Sylvester McCoy), reaches out. Meanwhile Father Brown’s frenemy Flambeau (John Light) returns with his estranged father, Gabriel (Ian Gelder), in tow and a dangerous mission in mind…
Father Brown is a BBC Studios Drama Production for BBC One and BBC iPlayer. The Script Producer is Dawn-Coulson Beckett, the Line Producer is Michelle Brown, the Series Producer is Seán Gleeson and the Executive Producer is Neil Irvine. Helen Munson is the Commissioning Editor for BBC Daytime. Series 1 to 11 of Father Brown are internationally distributed by BBC Studios.
Interview with Mark Williams (Father Brown)
We’re at the 11th series of Father Brown. What is the continuing appeal for you of working on this great series?
The chief attraction for me is that I never get bored. I’ve never been bored on this job – which is an incredibly unusual thing for an actor to say. Father Brown is constantly interested in everything that goes on around him. I find that easy to generate because so am I.
Tell us more…
He’s looking at the world all the time and there’s always something to see. He is fascinated by the arrangement of life itself and the way people deal with each other and the things they don’t say. That is what Miss Marple said: it’s the unimportant things that are important. It’s very much the same for him. He has that Miss Marple thing of being the quiet observer. Increasingly, not so quiet sometimes actually! We’ve moved away from Chesterton’s Father Brown, and that’s probably my fault. He is a lot more proactive now. And he seems to be picking a lot of locks lately, which we may have to address!
What highlights should we be looking out for in the new series of Father Brown?
We have got some very good plots this year. In one episode, Sister Boniface gets arrested, but it’s not her fault, funnily enough. To be continued… We also have a really nice episode about Brenda, which we’re filming at the moment. It’s about what happened to her when she was an evacuee. A letter has been written and thereby hangs a tale. We have to deal with a double murder – one historical and one contemporary, so it’s a really strong plot. We have got a crime writing festival, too, which is great. It’s lots of shenanigans about crime and people’s enjoyment of it, and then suddenly it becomes very real for people.
Have you come up with any plots yourself this year?
Yes. There is a plot that revolves around a dance competition coming up that was my idea. I thought we should do that because we have two dancers in the regular cast. It seemed to me that was a facility we should use!
Sylvester McCoy, a former Doctor Who, is also guest starring as a doctor in this series, isn’t he?
Yes, a Doctor playing a doctor. How meta! He is called Dr McClurgy. It’s a great name and he is a great character. He’s a cantankerous old bloke. But Brenda wins him round, luckily.
Father Brown has such a great history of attracting guest stars. That’s part of the attraction of the show, presumably?
It’s certainly an appeal for me. One of the chief joys for me is that every episode we have different people on. I just love watching them work. Sometimes I forget to concentrate and just go, “Look at them! Wow! Look at them doing acting!” Because I actually like actors. There are some actors who don’t like other actors, but I do. I like them very much. It’s great because not only do we move locations regularly, but we have different cast members, too. Although it is sometimes nice when it’s just the five of us. We did a scene together last night, and we were all going, “It’s so nice just to be the five of us.”
Has any other TV detective influenced your performance as Father Brown?
I was a big fan of the American series that we got in the 70s, like Colombo. I have to acknowledge the debt really to Peter Falk. I like his style of being on the back foot and slightly off the beat. As an actor, you don’t necessarily think that rhythm should be important, but actually it is. Because if you do everything at the same beat, you will die of boredom. So it’s better to vary the rhythm. And Peter Falk was a very big influence for me. I actually got Colombo’s catchphrase into one show. I was about to leave and I turned around and said, “Just one more thing” – which I was pathetically pleased about! I’ve also got another Colombo nod coming up, but I’m not going to tell you what it is. It’s just something that Peter Falk used to do, which I’m going to use.
Why do the clergy lend themselves so well to crime solving?
Because they’re outside society. They’re not like policemen. They’re not dealing with politics or other people. They have a spiritual realm, so they have somewhere else to come from when they view the world. And also they have a faith, which gives them an interior strength. They are right in the middle of the community as well, but not really of the community, particularly Catholic priests who are celibate. Father Brown is driven by something beyond merely solving the crime. For him, it’s not an intellectual puzzle in the Sherlock Holmes tradition. The reward is not to solve the puzzle; the reward is somebody’s soul. When the peace of the world is riven by bad things, he wants to put them right. He wants there to be peace.
Have you thought how long you might play Father Brown for?
I don’t really do that. I think it’s bad for the soul. In this business, planning for the future is an extremely dangerous preoccupation. You have only got one job at a time. You never know whether you’re going to work again, which is one of the cruelties of this business, along with rejection. Which is why it’s amazing that so many people do it year after year in the face of these terrible setbacks and unemployment!
When was the last time you went to confession?
I’ve never been to confession. I confess to myself in the dark watches of the night. I do that regularly and with zeal. So I confessed to myself last night, for example.
Have you ever sworn while wearing your cassock?
Oh, yes, regularly, off camera. It’s a good antidote because being good all the time can be a little bit trying. Especially when you’re wearing about 20 pounds worth of cloth and the sweat is running down your back, a good curse is sometimes a great idea!
Father Brown is shown in many different territories all around the world. Why has it struck such a universal chord?
I think it’s good storytelling. That’s what it’s about. It’s also familiar in the sense that the same things happen in each episode. But then the same things happen in every single Haydn symphony. It doesn’t make them any less individual, to use a probably over-wrought musical analogy – but there you go, I did it! So there’s that. And also there is the whole appeal of the whodunit, to which there is always a resolution. There’s an ending. It’s solved. So you can put it away afterwards and say, “Right, that’s good. We solved that. We learnt about the human condition”.
What is the most unusual place you have been recognised?
A little girl in a sweet shop in Cartagena ran up and wrapped her arms around my legs and went, “Father Brown!” It happens quite regularly. You can be in all sorts of places.