Turning the tables on our actions

My compliments to Nationwide for a fine programme on the Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes

‘Wherever you go, you seem to leave a trail of corpses’. So said Inspector Valentine in last Saturday afternoon’s episode of Father Brown (RTE 1).

I have found this new, BBC-produced take on Chesterton’s priest-detective rather underwhelming. Mark Williams does a fine job in the title role, but the pace is sluggish, the plots fairly predictable, the minor characters somewhat clichéd and no amount of tasty period flavour makes up for that. Most lacking, however, is much in the line of spiritual or theological insight.

In the most recent episode, which was mildly entertaining, we did get Fr Brown trying to get a sinner to repent and being astutely pastoral in his approach to a girl with dyslexia, and there were two fairly useful scenes for my Confession collection, but on the whole it was disappointing.

The character of the priest-detective in TV drama is nothing new, and many have fond memories of earlier versions of Father Brown and even Father Dowling, so I was looking forward to ITV’s new drama, Grantchester (ITV, Monday nights) which features a young vicar (well played by James Norton) who does a bit of part-time sleuthing.

The literary origins this time are The Grantchester Mysteries by James Runcie.

So far, it has been relaxed and easy viewing with no major brain crunching required. The ‘50s Cambridge setting gives it an air of nostalgia. I’m not convinced that the period setting has been used that imaginatively, though it is well created, typical of this kind of show. The vicar is an appealing character, curious, concerned and courageous.

I’d stay a mile away from him as he looks set to become another murder magnet. One of the most interesting plot lines is his relationship (platonic, certainly for now) with a young woman who becomes engaged to another man, but the show shies away from attempting much in the line of theological insight, so the fact that he’s a vicar is underused.

The plot of the first episode was predictable enough and I spotted who the guilty party was before the Big Revelation. There were superfluous flashbacks to the murder scene (typical of the genre) as if the viewers had faulty imaginations, and within the flashbacks of the first episode some pointless sex scenes, designed I’d suspect to attract a post-watershed slot or to slap on some designer ‘edginess’. The second episode on Monday was an improvement plot-wise and there was more depth to the vicar.

Another popular ITV detective drama, Lewis, returned last Friday night. In the past it has featured a scattering of theology, especially related to the Detective Hathaway character. In this opening episode, he spoke of having walked the Camino in Spain but insisted it wasn’t a pilgrimage. The plot was complex, the scriptwriting confident and the depth of characterisation above average.

Detective Lewis had retired in the last series and his retirement issues got a perceptive treatment, as did his convenient return to police work as a temporary consultant. This, of course, created a certain tension with his old mate Hathaway, now his superior.

I was reminded of King Lear’s attempts at retirement though the consequences weren’t so drastic this time! Lewis is a spinoff from the old Inspector Morse series, and so the university town of Oxford is the setting for all those murderous goings on.

I wonder, does it put parents off sending their sons and daughters to the afflicted college?

Finally, my compliments to Nationwide (RTÉ 1, Wednesday) for a fine programme on the Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes that took place recently. It was filmed lovingly, the background music was excellent, but best of all was the testimony of the pilgrims – from the enthusiastic and impressive young volunteers to the ill people they were caring for.

“Lourdes turns the tables on how we often think and act,” said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who seemed energised by the event.

Moments of fun and busyness were contrasted with quiet private time of prayer. Mary Kennedy, always an empathic presenter admitted to being moved by the occasion and, while mention was made of the commercial side of Lourdes, it was entirely peripheral to the concerns, emotions and prayers of the pilgrims. Lourdes came across as a place of love, kindness, compassion and hope. Can’t do much better than that.