Dressing a Priest: The Costumes of ‘Father Brown’

Father Brown

I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery. And a period one? More of a sucker. Father Brown is a show based on the stories written by G.K. Chesterton from 1911 – 1936. In much the same way that Poirot and Marple have been set in specific time periods (between 1936 and 1938 and the 1950s respectively), Father Brown has been set in the 1950s – don’t ask me why. But this time period allows for certain leeway with specific stories – such as divorce, affairs, even madness. I haven’t read any of Chesterton’s short stories but it does appear that most of the characters have been invented for the show and work in much the same way as detective “assistants” do. They are the audience’s way into the story and act as information retrievers. The characters have all been drawn very well and their costumes (designed by Giles Gale) emphasise this.

Father Brown (played by Mark Williams)

A slightly crumpled, shambolic and mild-mannered priest, Father Brown is, on the surface, easily forgotten. But his apparent innocence belies a playful wit and a razor-sharp intellect. His greatest strength – both as a priest and as a detective of crime – is his love and understanding of other people. The insights he’s been given mean he’s better placed than the police to decipher the criminal mind. However unlike the police, he’s not there to judge. When Father Brown solves crime, he isn’t meting out justice. He’s trying to save souls. [Taken from the BBC Father Brown site.]

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Father Brown spends nearly all of his time dressed in his black cassock. Changes to this occur at funerals (most common), weddings and when he is seen at a church service. He mostly wears a long white robe (an alb) with appropriate vestments. The show has a priest advisor and I assume that, along with historical research into priests in the 1950s, he was helpful with the proper vestment colours. There have been a few occasions where Father Brown was shown in his pyjamas but I can’t recall any other costumes… Although it has been a year since I saw series one.

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Inspector Valentine (played by Hugo Speer)

Head of the local police force and thoroughly decent human being, Inspector Valentine finds himself constantly torn between admiration for Father Brown and deep frustration with him. For Valentine, crime is wrong, full stop; he can’t fathom the Father’s subtle morality. He wishes he had the Father’s insights, and in an ideal world would like them to work together, but has been burnt once too often by Father Brown’s curious moral code… [Taken from the BBC Father Brown site.]

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Inspector Valentine definitely dresses to impress. Or at least that’s how he views it. He tries. Whenever he is on the scene of a crime his suit always seems to be rumpled. His top shirt button is undone, his tie is slightly loosened and his jacket unbuttoned to show his waistcoat. He mostly sticks to grey and blue tones with his ties being used to brighten up the colours. Nothing is ostentatious about Valentine. And he is always shown wearing his trilby. As he should.

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Mrs McCarthy (played by Sorcha Cusack)

The Irish parish secretary at St Mary’s is also Father Brown’s no-nonsense second-in-command. Full of opinions about the shocking state of the nation, she’s his ear to the ground on parish events (though rest assured, ‘she’s not one to gossip’) and his confidante on official Church business and everything else. Chief defender of Father Brown, Mrs. McCarthy lives to check facts for him, to protect him from the wrath of the diocese, to make sure he eats… [Taken from the BBC Father Brown site.]

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Mrs M is the most old-fashioned character in the show. She reminds me of those older women who found a way of dressing and have stuck with that, fashion be damned. This is fairly authentic. That’s what my Nan did and my Mum sort of does the same thing. Mrs McCarthy is always well “turned out” but none of it would necessarily be on anyone’s vintage ‘to buy’ list. Everything is accessorised with a hat, gloves (usually), pearls (or similar) and a brooch. The fifties silhouette is still in evidence but is hidden much more under cardigans and jackets.

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Lady Felicia Montague (played by Nancy Carroll)

A glamorous woman with a lively dress sense and manner to match. Wealthy, but bored, Lady Felicia is a socialite, constantly throwing charity functions, not so much because she believes in the cause, but because she loves a party. But despite filling her life with every distraction imaginable, underneath it all, the Countess is lonely. To fill the void, her behaviour is often hedonistic and impulsive as she seeks out drama and affairs. [Taken from the BBC Father Brown site.]

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Lady F is the glamour of the show. Above she is described as “wealthy, but bored” and this shows through her clothes. She can afford the very best, the newest and the most daring and everything will be worn perfectly. Her only apparent concerns are how she looks but once you get to know her you realise that this isn’t quite true but it doesn’t make her love of fashion any less visible.

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While Mrs M sticks to a similar overall shape for her costumes, Lady F has much more freedom. She has ballgowns with huge skirts and petticoats or a pencil skirt. She has been seen wearing sharply tailored jackets, fur stoles, cardigans, pretty much anything from the 1950s is fair game. But everything is fitted perfectly to her and the key area of the ’50s, the waist, is always highlighted. Always.

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Lady F is wearing a fitted dress here and I love it. The lapels, the buttons, that hat and the hair. Perfect.

Sid Carter (played by Alex Price)

A mostly former small-time crook with contacts in the criminal underworld, Sid’s a bit of a grown-up Artful Dodger. Father Brown gives him some handyman work at the church to try to keep him on the straight and narrow – and out of the clutches of Inspector Valentine. He’s Father Brown’s go-to person when he needs help and information on criminal activities, and Sid is only too happy to snitch as long as he feels he’s getting something out of it. [Taken from the BBC Father Brown site.]

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Unfortunately I couldn’t find too many photos of Sid, my favourite character (Lady F’s a close second). As he spends most of his time as Lady F’s chauffeur we tend to see him in his uniform much of the time. A uniform that looks very familiar to Branson’s from Downton Abbey

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If not wearing his uniform he tends to be seen wearing half of his uniform – so we have vest, shirt and breeches with braces. There have been a few occasions where he’s been seen dressed in his “civvies” and these are seen to be very simple clothes. Just as you would expect. High-waisted trousers, wide collared shirts (usually quite bright but not patterned), single-breasted jacket (usually contrasting the trousers) and a pork pie hat. He fits the ’50s but HIS ’50s. You could never confuse him with an older man or a teenager.

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Susie Jasinski (played by Kasia Koleczek)

Father Brown’s Polish housekeeper and church cleaner, Susie works part time allowing her to work in other houses around the village. A war orphan who lost both parents, Father Brown plays a paternal role in her life, spying the heart of gold behind the spiky exterior. Susie doesn’t like authority and clashes with Mrs McCarthy but is tremendously loyal to Father Brown. Susie and Sid are sparring partners and there’s a flirty dynamic between them – though both would deny it to their last breath. [Taken from the BBC Father Brown site.]

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Susie was only in the first series of Father Brown and, as I only watched it once a year ago I amy not be quite on the ball with her costumes… As you can see from this image she has embraced the silhouette of the 1950s but her dresses are much simpler than those of Lady F. She wears more basic cotton day dresses and doesn’t have much call for elegant evening dresses. The increase of patterned fabric was very evident in the ’50s and this is definitely true of costumes used for most of the female characters in Father Brown.

Inspector Sullivan (played by Tom Chambers)

Chambers: “To Sullivan, Father Brown is like an itch that won’t go away. He finds him annoying, especially as he frequently outwits him. Sullivan bases his investigation on science and reason. He’s very into the forensics of his day. But he’s too busy looking at that to notice the human behaviour that Father Brown picks up on.” [Taken from Birmingham Mail.]

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Inspector Sullivan took over from Valentine when Hugo Speer couldn’t film the series due to commitments to The Musketeers and we have a very different detective here. Once again we have three-piece suits in dark colours and a trilby but that’s where the similarities end. The slightly scruffy look of Valentine worked for his gruff demeanour but Sullivan is much more ‘by the book’ and his sleek, well-structured suits show that. He has patterns to his ties but they are in no way as “showy” (if they could be called that) as Valentine’s. His accessories include a perfectly positioned pocket square and a tie bar. This is where I have issues. Not only  does the tie bar look odd because it is so high up (necessary for it to be seen above the high-necked waistcoat) but it is superfluous. A tie bar is intended to hold the tie to the shirt but a waistcoat does that anyway. [How to Wear a Tie Bar by He Spoke Style] Tie bars have come back into fashion recently and this means that people are more aware of them…

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The current series of Father Brown ends lunchtime today but should remain on iPlayer for a week or so. The first series is on DVD but nothing has been announced about the second series or whether there’ll be a third. I heartily recommend it if you, like me, have a fondness for this cosy English murder genre.

S x

Some images from http://sweetsundaymornings.blogspot.co.uk

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2 thoughts on “Dressing a Priest: The Costumes of ‘Father Brown’

  1. Pingback: Costume Stories, This Week: Amy Adams & Sleepy Hollow |

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