TV review: Dani’s Castle; My Mad Fat Diary; Father Brown

A scene from Dani's Castle
A scene from Dani's Castle

Having achieved a highly commendable runner-up position on Strictly Come Dancing, Dani Harmer’s elevated star status is reflected in the fact her former CBBC show Dani’s House has been upgraded to the new Dani’s Castle.

For Dani has come into an inheritance from one of those previously unmentioned distant relatives much beloved of sitcom writers, and off she relocates to Ireland to claim her grand country pile. With it come some new friends – including a cousin with whom she has to share the bequest – a library with secret passageways leading from it, a mountain of unpaid bills and several ghosts displaying various degrees of malevolence.

Much screaming, misunderstanding and running down corridors follows, in the great tradition of Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Scooby and Shaggy and every other comic character that ever crossed paths with the supernatural.

Indeed, the set-up is exploited with such verve, energy and imagination that you hardly notice those members of the youthful cast who are – how can I put this in a supportive, nurturing way? – a trifle wooden. In fact, the inclusion of at least one such actor in every CBBC show would suggest the channel has some sort of quota to fill.

[pullquote]Laughter tracks are an abomination. Dani’s Castle is genuinely funny and the producers should trust their young audience to find it so, unaided and alone[/pullquote]

Wooden teenage actors I can forgive, but not the imposition of a horribly distracting and totally unnecessary laughter track. Not a full-throated studio audience roar of amusement, you understand, but a rather cursory group chuckle that sounds like a few passers-by sharing a joke among themselves. Laughter tracks are an abomination. Dani’s Castle is genuinely funny and the producers should trust their young audience to find it so, unaided and alone.

My Mad Fat Diary stars Sharon Rooney as Rae, a 16-stone, 16 year-old obliged to leave the relative comforts of a psychiatric hospital and return to the uncertainties, anxieties and challenges of the outside world.

A comedy drama that actually satisfies the criteria of both genres, My Mad Fat Diary offers a unique and uncompromising perspective on adolescent angst that distresses and delights by turns. Visual gimmicks – flashbacks, fantasies and animated squiggles leaping from the page – are used sparingly but effectively, allowing the focus to stay fixed on Rae and Rooney’s commanding and engagingly natural central performance.

Some of the humour feels a little forced, such as Rae’s mum’s illegal immigrant boyfriend forever transported around in the boot of the car, but for the most part it rings painfully true.

“If you’ll allow the police to conduct their investigation,” grumbles Father Brown’s Inspector Valentine, as he finds himself ankle-deep in dead nuns poisoned by cyanide-coated pear drops, “I’m sure things will become clear in due course.”

Some chance. For whenever detective fiction throws up a crime scene, invariably a gifted amateur is close by, keen to explore theories all of their own.

Father Brown is the BBC’s latest weekday afternoon drama series, and each episode serves up a very satisfying and self-contained 45-minute slice of sleuthing set in the Cotswold countryside, resplendent in post-war period detail. Mark Williams is excellent as GK Chesterton’s gentle, pious and insatiably curious Roman Catholic priest, with Hugo Speer suitably long-suffering as Valentine, forever plodding unimaginatively up one dead end or another.

Dani’s Castle, CBBC, Thursday, January 24, 5.15pm
My Mad Fat Diary, E4, Monday, January 21, 10pm
Father Brown, BBC1, Monday, January 21 to Friday, January 25, 2.15pm

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