Netflix Illusionist Derren Brown's Backstory Explains So Much

Earlier this year, Derren Brown: The Push landed on Netflix, introducing American audiences to the British mentalist on a wide scale. With the second installment of his three-part deal dropping this month, audiences may be wondering: where is Derren Brown from? The irreverent illusionist hails from South London and after almost two decades of successful British TV shows and specials, his Netflix deal marks his first major platform in the States. Brown was born and raised in Croydon, where he attended the Whitgift School, before studying law and German at the University of Bristol. It was at university that he first began attending hypnotist shows.

While Derren Brown: The Push tackled "the psychological secrets of obedience and social compliance" (i.e., Brown demonstrated how easy it is to manipulate otherwise kind people to go along with horrific acts of cruelty), his new special, entitled Miracle, shifts focus to the concept of "faith healing" — a practice to which he has deep ties as a former Evangelical Christian. Although his parents were not religious, they sent him to bible study as a child believing it would be good for him. In his teens, while grappling with his budding sexuality, he became a committed Evangelical Christian to avoid the fact that he was gay. As he got older, however, and began to take an interest in illusions, the constructs of religion began to fail him. (He eventually came out in the his 30s, met, and married his current partner.)

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Said Brown in an interview with the Radio Times:

As soon as I got into hypnosis in my first year at university, my Christian friends’ hackles went up and they talked about how I was ushering in the devil. I felt that if that was the insight and questioning going on, I didn’t want to be a part of it. I read theology books and tried to undo all the pat answers I had for things, expecting to rebuild [my faith], but the rebuilding never happened. The first time I said to someone that I didn’t believe in God, I felt a guilty rush but apart from that, it was liberating.

Derren Brown: Miracle plays on some of the revival traditions of the Evangelical Christian culture in which faith leaders claim to "heal" the sick through the power of god. (This is also where the images of people speaking in tongues as they're filled with the holy spirit come from). "Through a series of stunts that debunk the confines of fear, pain, and disbelief," Brown unveils how easy it is for faith healers to manipulate their congregations, according to the Netflix synopsis. Radio Times reports, "He emphasizes that debunking faith healing is about exposing scams rather than attacking religion."

Prior to his trio of Netflix specials, Brown had a show called Secret which ran off-Broadway in 2017. According to Deadline, Miracle is a televised adaptation of his stage show, which toured the UK in 2015 and 2016. Televised versions of both it and The Push have previously aired on Channel 4.

By the looks of Miracle's trailer, we can expect pretty typical magical illusions: eating glass unscathed, smashing a woman's hand down onto a nail without piercing it, and other acts of hypnosis. But Brown also appears to improve an audience member's eyesight and ease another's bodily pain — all without the purported help of god. It's a clever way of exposing the tactics of manipulative religious leaders while also maintaining a certain amount of intrigue and mystery. In his 2004-2006 series Trick of the Mind, Brown claimed that his work "fuses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship." If you want to catch his latest effort, Derren Brown: Miracle begins streaming on Netflix June 22.