By Martina Krénová
What could go wrong when a handsome, charismatic vicar partners with a police detective to solve crimes? The duo of a flawed vicar loving cricket, whiskey, jazz, and women, battling his inner demons, and a highly practical police detective, who has a strong sense of duty to make the society better, stumble upon many interesting cases, which bring them the enjoyment of solving crimes in a good company but also get them into a lot of trouble.
Grantchester is an ITV detective drama set in the 1950s Cambridgeshire village of the same name based on The Grantchester Mysteries, a collection of short stories, written by James Runcie. The story starts when a Grantchester vicar, Sidney Chambers (played by James Norton), is approached by a mistress of a dead man that Sidney has just buried, and she tells him in confidence that she thinks he has not committed suicide but has been murdered. Sidney then follows the clues and meets with a local detective, Geordie Keating (played by Robson Green), to persuade him to look into the case. At first, Sidney’s meddling with police business creates tension between the two, but Geordie soon realizes not only Sidney’s talent for solving crimes, but also the advantages of having a vicar help finding the culprits, and he starts “employing” him on a regular basis. Being two men with very different professions and thus opinions on many matters creates a lot of chemistry and makes them a great on-screen duo.
Though at first the series seems like a typical detective show with an amateur solving crimes alongside a police force, it has much more to offer. First of all, it is the era the drama is set in. The 1950s is the post-war era of a societal change in Britain which plays a huge role in the series. Not an episode goes without touching upon the society’s attitudes towards Germany, homosexuality, racism, criminals, death penalty, etc. Every case brings up a new issue to talk about. Although it is the 1950s, where gross indecency is punished with imprisonment and limited possibilities for one’s future and almost every murder leads to a death sentence, the series tackles these issues with sensitivity. Sidney plays a great part in the portrayal of these various matters, because where society is quick to pass a judgment he shows understanding and modern thinking. He does not always see eye to eye with Geordie, which again creates tension, especially in the second season, but they usually work cases out as they both want the best for the society and people.
Being a vicar and a detective causes double trouble for Sidney because the two professions are polar opposites. As a vicar, Sidney is supposed to see the good in people and give them benefit of a doubt, but as a detective, he should expect the worst of them. He finds that being a detective sometimes prevents him from being a good Christian and a vicar to his parish. Interestingly, with Sidney it is never a crisis of faith, his faith in God remains unshaken but finding himself telling white lies or violating the confidentiality of his parishioners makes him question himself as vicar quite often. However, Sidney’s character has more struggles to offer. He also battles his inner demons of having been a soldier in WWII, which results in somewhat heavy drinking to oblivion. Moreover, he is pressured to get married, because being a single, handsome young vicar could cause him trouble. Unfortunately, the woman he loves might not be the woman a vicar should marry. Inner conflicts, good and bad decisions, character flaws, rich past, and the struggle of handling two lives make Sidney one of the most captivating and complex characters on screen that is easy to identify with for many.
Though flawed and struggling, Sidney with the love of cricket and passion for jazz is probably the most compelling character of Grantchester, after all, he is the main protagonist; however, the show would not stand out without the other characters. Geordie Keating, Sidney’s partner in crime, or rather in solving crime, is quite the opposite of Sidney with his grumpiness and seeing the worst in people, but these differences between the two make them such a dynamic duo. Another interesting and enjoyable character is Sidney’s curate, Leonard. Whenever he appears on scene one might expect a bit of a comical situation, though he certainly is not the laughing stock. He is caring and studious and very importantly for the author, gay, though at first he might not realize this because he is still discovering who he really is. Amanda, Sidney’s best friend and eventually love interest, is one part of a love triangle in the story, with Hildegard, a German widow, as her counterpart. Both women make interesting characters and provide for compelling storylines. Vicarage would not be at its best without always complaining Mrs. Macguire, who takes care of Sidney and his household, and Sidney’s companion Dickens, the labrador dog. The dog is a beautiful complement to Grantchester’s scenery, which is also a character of the show because everything that England undergoes in that era, Grantchester does as well. According to James Runcie, Grantchester is “an iconic village. It stands for England”.
Although the series stands on its own, it is impossible to talk about it without mentioning the books and the author. James Runcie loosely based Sidney Chambers on his father, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the novels are a tribute to him and to the profession of vicars. James Runcie intentionally created a vicar who is handsome, sex-driven, does not like sherry like most on-screen vicars do, and who would not be stripped down to being a comedy cleric: “Certainly retired clergymen, who were clergy in the 50s, are very affectionate about the books. They think the television series pushes it a bit far because, of course, some of the behaviour in the television series, and in the second series certainly, he would find it hard to hold onto his job as a priest. He’d probably be sacked. They find that a bit odd, but they do find it very refreshing to have what I hope is an authentic portrayal of what it was really like to be a priest, albeit in a dramatized way(link2)”. Without doubt the series “pushes it a bit far”, but without pushing it there, some of the issues mentioned above would never be talked about and characters would not have such deep struggles, thus in that sense, the writer of the show, Daisy Coulam, does a terrific job in making the series her own. With gripping and sensitive writing, complex characters, changing England, and the idyllic set of Grantchester, this new show is a worthy opponent to the already established Inspector Morse of Oxfordshire.
Series 1 introduces the two main characters and slowly develops their friendship when dealing with murders connected to different social issues. Sidney finds that he cannot force himself to judge people the society condemns, i.e. suicides, homosexuals, criminals, while battling the guilt of some of his WWII acts. His long-term friend Amanda Kendall gets engaged which creates some tensions between the two as they are in love but cannot be together, since Amanda’s father has arranged the marriage and will not let her marry a clergyman. Meanwhile, Sidney meets a young German widow Hildegard and the relationship between the two of them starts blossoming. Everything seems to go well until Sidney goes into town to see a famous jazz singer, Gloria Dee, perform.
Series 1: 80%
The second series begins with Sidney’s best friend Geordie determined to find him a suitable girlfriend/wife when Sidney is accused of sexual abuse. After a young boy accidentally kills a girl and is sentenced to death, things get darker between the two friends as they cannot agree on the matter of death penalty and they go against each other in the murder trial. Meanwhile, Sidney starts dating a new woman while trying to keep up his friendship with Amanda.
Series 2: 90%
Running time: 6 x 45 mins /series, 2 series available, third series planned for 2017
Directed by Harry Bradbeer
Written by Daisy Coulam, based on James Runcie stories
Starring: James Norton, Robson Green, Morven Christie, Tessa Peake-Jones, Al Weaver, Pheline Roggan, Tom Austen and others
IMDB profile & selected promo videos
Available on Amazon and YouTube