A Nun Becomes Unlikely Crime-Solver in BritBox’s Endearing Sister Boniface

Lorna Watson (Sister Boniface) and Jerry Iwu (DS Felix Livingstone) – Courtesy of BritBox

If a series about a crime-solving priest has run for nine seasons and 100 episodes, then it seems like kind of a no-brainer to greenlight a spin-off featuring a crime-solving nun. Even though it’s been nine years since Lorna Watson first appeared as Sister Boniface on an episode of beloved British mystery drama Father Brown, she doesn’t miss a beat when returning to the character for 1960s-set BritBox original series Sister Boniface Mysteries, which is now streaming, with new episodes premiering weekly. It’s another winning combination of cozy mysteries, light period drama, and quirky characters.

Although Sister Boniface is the title character, she often plays more of a supporting role, as part of a team investigating crimes in the aptly named town of Great Slaughter. There are an alarming number of murders in this quaint little village, and Sister Boniface, with her advanced science degree and experience working as a World War II codebreaker, is key to solving them. Officially, she’s a consultant to the police, helping detectives Sam Gillespie (Max Brown) and Felix Livingstone (Jerry Iwu) with crime scene investigation. Sister Boniface has her own crime lab in the convent, with all of the cutting-edge equipment for the 1960s.

The episodes of Sister Boniface Mysteries adhere to a rigid procedural format, with a cold open establishing the crime, followed by scientific analysis by Sister Boniface and interrogations by Gillespie and Livingstone, aided by their somewhat scatterbrained constable, Peggy Button (Ami Metcalf). Meddling local reporter Ruth Penny (Miranda Raison) also pokes around, sometimes finding valuable clues of her own, sometimes impeding the investigation, and always flirting with Gillespie.

Within that formula, though, creator Jude Tindall (a longtime Father Brown writer) and the writing team find plenty of fun variations, and despite the high body count, Sister Boniface Mysteries remains cheerful and energetic, much like its title character. Sister Boniface is dutifully pious, often crossing herself before attending to a murder victim, but she also approaches crime-solving with a sense of glee, taking delight in every clue and discovery. She gets occasional looks of disapproval from other nuns, but for the most part her fellow sisters are supportive, sometimes getting involved in the mysteries themselves.

Sister Boniface’s convent is remarkably progressive, with its own winemaking operation on the premises in addition to the crime lab. Sister Boniface herself expresses support for the nascent feminist movement, rides around on a Vespa, and seems entirely knowledgeable about worldly matters (she’s a lot more attuned to Ruth’s flirting than Gillespie is). Watson’s performance is delightful, making the unlikely sight of a nun in a crime lab seem entirely natural, and the rest of the cast is similarly charming, although none of the other characters is as distinctive as Sister Boniface.

Gillespie is a prototypical straight-arrow cop, and Livingstone is only slightly more complex. In the first episode, he arrives from his native Bermuda thinking that he’s going to be working with Scotland Yard, only to discover that he’s been assigned to Great Slaughter instead. But by the end of his first case, he fits right in. Ruth, too, expresses her desire to leave Great Slaughter for a more glamorous reporting job in London, but it’s clear that all of the characters are perfectly at home where they are.

The mysteries on Sister Boniface Mysteries aren’t groundbreaking, and the solutions are often rudimentary, but the path to get there is genial and inviting. The show has the bright, flat visual style of daytime British TV, but there are occasional stylistic flourishes, from a recreation of an absurd 1960s TV spy drama to a fantasy sequence of Sister Boniface’s The Sound of Music-inspired daydream. As formulaic and undemanding as Sister Boniface Mysteries can be, it’s still produced with enough creativity and wit to keep its silly concept engaging.

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He’s the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and the former TV comedies guide for About.com. He has written about movies, TV, and pop culture for Syfy Wire, Polygon, CBR, Inverse, Crooked Marquee, and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.