Monsignor Renard
Carlton 2000
France (May 1940)
TX : 27th March 2000
Script : Russell Lewis

Synopsis :
Augustin Renard, a decorated war hero in the First World War, left his Picarcy hometown in 1920 and went off against his family's wishes to become a priest. Now he has been appointed parish priest to St.Josse des Bois but his arrival coincides with an exodus south by many of the population, the evacuation of a local airfield by the British and the arrival of the Germans, as Marshal Petain announces an armistice.

Notes : The cast of Monsignor Renard was made up principally of British actors and actresses. However, the German military officers and their soldiers who made up the invading forces were played by German artists cast in Berlin. A number of French locals were also drafted in as extras The Times dated 27th March reviewed the series: John Thaw's latest incarnation on ITV - following roles as a thuggish cop, a cerebral detective, a wealthy barrister, a scruffy solicitor and a rustic misanthrope - is as Augustin Renard, who returns from Spain to take up his post as parish priest in St Josse, Picardy, in May 1940, just as the German occupying forces are arriving. Russell Lewlis' classy series of four ninety-minute films is involving, with the French characters played by British actors speaking unaccented English. The Germans speak subtitled German - and seem more prone to lewdness - assisting his aim of encouraging the viewer to imagine the Weimacht taking control of Ambridge. Back in his birthplace after twenty years' absence, Renard faces awkward encounters with his brother, Yves (Des McAleer), who resents his failure to keep in touch, and with Madeleine (Cheryl Campbell), an old flame unhappily married to a bar owner. And Lewis' polished script skillfully foreshadows future ethical dilemmas he will face in the confessional. The former soldier is instinctively hostile to Vichy passivity, as a defiantly patriotic sermon shows. But his duty is to minister to the town's collaborations - including Madeleine's daughter, already making eyes at an enemy soldier - as well as its nascent resistance cell.

France (July 1940)
TX : 3rd April 2000
Script : Russell Lewis

Synopsis :
The folk of St.Josse prepare to celebrate Bastille Day, but liberty, equality and fraternity are in short supply when Gestapo Officer Rudi Brandt descends on the town and unleashes his jackbooted minions. A battle of wills soon develops with Renard, who resists the temptation to collaborate with the invaders. He is arrested for an act of resistance, and his former lover Madeleine is forced to re-examine her attitude towards the Germans.

Notes : As preparation for filming Monsignor Renard, John Thaw read books on the Occupation Of France and watched videos of French films about that period "Imagine the Wehrmacht had suddenly marched down Coronation Street, or hung a Swastika from the windows of the Queen Vic" - Russell Lewis

France (September 1940)
TX : 10th April 2000
Script : Charles Wood

Synopsis : As the German prosecution of the Jews begins, Renard uses the annual procession of St.Josse to register the disgust at events taking place.
Notes : The four episodes were filmed entirely in France.

"Who better than John Thaw to play a charismatic yet flawed figure in an ITV drama?" - Sunday Times

France (November 1940)
TX : 17th April 2000
Script : Stephen Churchett

Synopsis : Renard leads the townsfolk in an open snub to the Germans, while Etienne incurs the NAZI's anger with a foolhardy and premature show of resistance.

Notes : "The war scenes are like Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but without the budget. The whole things feels as convincing as OJ Simpson's alibi" - The Guardian.
"The tenor of the piece is about Renard's moral dilemma - how can a priest get involved with one side or the other? You've got honourable men having to fight for their life, for their whole culture - in this case in France. For priests at that time, there were moral dilemmas like hearing a confession when someone says 'I've just shot a German', or someone who is pro-German, admitting 'I slept with a German last night'. How does your conscience cope with that?" - John Thaw

Regular Characters
Portrayed By
Augustin Renard
John Thaw
Madeleine Claveau
Cheryl Campbell
Helen Claveau
Juliette Caton
Albert Claveau
Andrew McCulloch
Yves Renard
Des McAleer
Malo Gagnepain
Jimmy Yuill
Antoine Cabache
Timothy Walker
Sergeant Roger Duclos
John Axon
Jean Marie Vercors
Jamie Lee
Etienne Rollinger
Dominic Monaghan
Henri Baquet
Adam Kotz
Clara Baquet
Teresa Banham
Alain Baquet
Edward Hewitt
David Lavalle
Patrick Nielsen
Rene Montandon
Carl Rice
Didier Montandon
Greg Chisholm
Paul Montandon
Simon Scardifield
Madame Montandon
Kate Rutter
Jacque Rambure
Stephen Hoyle
Monsieur Rambure
Richard Cubison
Catherine Sarrau
Rebecca Raybone
Gaston Sarraut
Sam Townsend
Francois Michau
Will Travis
Louis Cavailles
Geoffrey Hutchings
Jay Villiers
Monsieur Dufoss
Michael Atwell
Madame Dufosse
Barbara Kellerman
Jean Paul Dufosse
Will Keen
Felix Dufosse
Jamie O'Brien
Jean Lefranc
Colin McLaughlan
Annette Lefranc
Judi Lamb
Guy Rossin
Stuart Morris
Louis Hammond
Alfred Lynch
Sarah Rice
Ulrich Simontowitz
Major Drexler
Bernd-Uwen Reppenhagen
Lieutenant Beckmann
Anantole Taubman
Rudi Brandt
Klaus Schreiber
Torben Liebrecht
Gregor Weber
Bjorn Jung
Dieter Franz
Joachim Paul Assbock
Field Chaplin
Holger Handtke
Field Bishop
Herb Andress
Lothar Von Grunigen
Christoph Grunert

Executive Producer for the series was Ted Childs. The series was produced by Chris Kelly. The series was directed by Malcolm Mowbray (Parts 1 and 2) and David Wheatley (Parts 3 and 4).

In 1998, Chris Kelly and Russell Lewis (already having joined forces to work on the highly-acclaimed Kavanagh QC) discussed the possibility of a television adaptation of The Power And Glory. However, the rights were owned by a rival media group, and Lewis provided Kelly with the idea of casting John Thaw as a priest in a World War II drama production. When the initial draft was created, it was presented to ITV executives who took two weeks to take an option on the series (four ninety-minute films to be broadcast as a lead-up to the final Inspector Morse mystery). Set in the French provincial village of St Josse Des Bois, the series heralded the return of Augustin Renard (John Thaw), a hero from the First World War who had abandoned the village in favour of pursuing a career in the church. Appointed as parish priest to the village, he returns to find smoking car wreckages and smouldering bomb sites en route to the village. There has been a mass exodus as German forces steadily occupy surrounding villages, and when Renard returns to his birthplace he finds it is now controlled by the Germans.

The four episodes focused on Renard's personal and professional dilemmas, and his continued efforts to rouse and sustain the French resistance against the occupying forces. Drawing his strength from his faith and patriotism, he covertly directed the villagers through rousing sermons against the Germans. Russell Lewis described the programme as "gritty accounts of moral choices, tales of human interest which deal with universal themes - good and evil, triumph and tragedy at the extreme of human experience; how, when faced with the worst, human resilience will shine through the darkness". This is entirely true, as Renard is forced to choose between the fundamentals of his faith and the violent necessities of life against the occupying forces.

Parrallels were undoubtedly drawn between this series and Secret Army, and in many respects the two compliment one another. However, whereas the BBC's drama production was more introspective in terms of its character focus, and featured a broader canvas upon which to portray its stories, Monsignor Renard was bound by its own claustrophobic premise and, as such, viewers either sympathized with the villagers' plight and willed Renard on, or found the entire production lacking any substance. The British press certainly found points of criticism in the lack of accents used by actors throughout the series, and in the lack of substantive funds to ensure the special effects and war-time set-pieces were visually spectacular.

Ultimately, the programme (despite rumours to the contrary) was never recommissioned, and in a year where the eagerly-anticipated final Inspector Morse episode was to surely follow, the programme was never highly regarded. Even the usual ITV gravitas of John Thaw in the leading role failed to improve average ratings figures (approximately twelve million per episode), and whilst the series did eventually receive a commercial VHS release, it has never been regarded as a classic Thaw production. The production team succeeded in making a series which was pleasant to watch, with beautiful scenery and cinematography, but a programme which ultimately lacked substance, focus and audience appeal - a testament to ITV's enduring habit of annually casting Thaw in anything going (as The Glass later underlined).

Text © Matthew Lee, 2004

Guide compiled by Andrew Screen