Sunday, July 15, 2018

Father Brown: “The Dance of Death” (BBC Studios, Albert+ Sustainable Productions, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night I put on a quite engaging — and surprisingly recent (first aired January 9, 2018) — episode of the British TV series Father Brown, a period-set (the 1950’s) mystery series loosely based on G. K. Chesterton’s series character. I haven’t read any of Chesterton’s Father Brown books (the only thing of his I have read is The Man Who Was Thursday, about a group of anarchists plotting in turn-of-the-last-century London, only all but one of them turn out to be police agents and the one who isn’t is Satan himself) but I like this show for its offbeat charm. This episode was called “The Dance of Death” and though there are far more illustrious works with the same title (notably the famous play by August Strindberg), this one was quite a charmer. Father Brown (Mark Williams) is attending a dance contest at the home of aristocrat Lady Rose (Diana Kent) and noticing the young man named Alexander Walgrave (Jarrad Ellis-Thomas) who’s dancing the contest with Lucy Dawes (Holly Weston) as his partner — much to the disgust of Lucy’s slimeball fiancé Oliver DeWitt (Seb Carrington), who’s clearly jealous of Alexander even though, like John in David Bowie’s song, they’re only dancing. Actually Alexander is drawn to wallflower Bunty (Emer Kenny), but when Lucy is found stabbed to death in her room Oliver is suspected even though Father Brown, dealing with an even dumber set of local police than usual, is convinced that he may be a slimeball but he’s not a killer. Alexander is also blind, courtesy of an accident he had at the same house some time earlier in which he was knocked down stairs by an intruder.

His blindness has given him an unusually sensitive ear for sounds and he insists that Lady Rose was the real killer because he heard the sound of her cane being used as the killer went down the stairs after dispatching Lucy. He searches her room, with Bunty’s insistence, and they find a blackmail letter from Lucy in which she claims to be Lady Rose’s illegitimate daughter, put up for adoption two decades earlier, and threatens to “out” her as her mom, which will ruin Lady Rose socially. It turns out, though, that the real killer is Merryn Tyrrell (Rosie Holden), who hated Lady Rose because Merryn’s father had partnered with her in a big investment and lost all his money doing so. Lady Rose swooped in and grabbed all the Tyrrell family assets at fire-sale prices, leading to the suicide of Merryn’s father and her mom’s death from illness shortly afterwards, and Merryn determined to kill Lucy and frame Lady Rose for the killing by stealing Lady Rose’s cane, which served both as the murder weapon (the cane contained a concealed knife) and a distraction: Alexander would hear Merryn ascend and descend the stairs using the cane and assume it was Lady Rose. There’s also an odd confession from Lady Rose to the effect that in her wilder, more sexually rambunctious days she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease that made it impossible for her to have children, which for some reason Father Brown thinks dismisses the allegation that Lucy was blackmailing her even though a) we have only her word for that and b) even if it’s true, she could have conceived Lucy, given birth to her and given her up for adoption before she got the STD. I was quite impressed by this little vest-pocket mystery and in particular I liked the performance of Jarrad Ellis-Thomas as Alexander; one reviewer thought he was unskilled as an actor but I thought his rather quixotic gestures and halting line delivery appropriate for playing a character who had suddenly become disabled and had adapted to it on some levels but still felt awkward presenting himself around other people.