It’s no secret that my obsession with British dramas might be a tiny bit unruly. Everything from the costuming to the men who bring the characters alive (those accents are never out of style) is a popular commodity on my movie shelf. Grantchester is the recent adaptation (inspired by a series of books by James Runchie) to make a splash on ITV, and once it was in my hands, the six-hour series went by all too quickly. The story is a familiar one, but it has lots of unique markers that shouldn’t be ignored.
The story is about a man still haunted by his days fighting in the war. Vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) is living out a restless existence in the small village where he is meant to be an example. The vicarage’s housekeeper Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) tries to steer him on the right path (which includes abstaining from alcohol), but often fails. His life changes when one of his parishioners confesses she believes her recently deceased lover was murdered. The coroner rules the death one of natural causes and the police follow suit with that conclusion. But Sidney’s persistence and keen observation skills soon impress Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green), who decides to take a second look at the case. This leads Sidney to the home of the victim’s widow, a German woman – Hildegard (Pheline Roggan), often shunned by the British people. Then there is Amanda (Morven Christie), the wealthy childhood friend Sidney cannot seem to forget – or let go.
Quiet, slow and charming are the basic backboards of this ITV miniseries. There is really nothing I didn’t like about this splashy addition to ITV’s programming. It’s reminiscent of Foyle’s War’s early years (which were quainter) and certainly ITV’s Marple. What’s interesting is this 6-episode set of installments seems quite different than Runchie’s books, which seem to present a more settled Sidney. Or that’s my impression after reading the summaries of the novels. The books also interestingly have a “strong parental influence,” a comment James made in reference to the fact that his father was a clergyman and the man who inspired him to write these novels.
However, not everyone will enjoy this period drama because it’s set on the cusp of a modern era in which many new ideals were slowly creeping into both social and political scenes. But, like the daring adventures of Phryne Fisher (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) or the quiet, but wise counsel of Miss Marple, for me this was the perfect tonic to a girl ready for some new entertainment.
Beyond just it’s setting (the 1950’s), this series is sublime. There is something fresh and unique about it. Sure, the cast does a lot in helping with the appeal. Not to mention the charm of the character journeys that bring us back hour after hour. Yet still there is a fascinating quality one cannot pin down. It’s something that no other series (in my viewing history), Grantchester’s peers match. The emotional turbulence and well written back stories are fleshed out with enough “tease” to make us question, “What else?” wondering what more there is to these character’s stories. There are lingering questions, things we’d like to see answered, but it’s all in preparation of piquing the audience to the already commissioned show for a sophomore showing. (This set of installments was never traditionally coined a “first season.”)
Speaking of the characters, let’s talk about them, shall we? They’re all complex people whom I anticipate to know better. This show features one of the best male heroes TV has written in a long time. Sidney is the very definition of the human condition. He’s imperfect, troubled and genuinely disappointed in himself when he makes mistakes – and he does make one rather large one. He knows right vs. wrong and it’s a refreshing thing to experience in a hero. He doesn’t condone his actions, nor does he want to cover them up. The executive producer (Diedrick Santer) describes Sidney very well with this quote, “What’s interesting about Sidney is that he has a clear moral universe, but he also knows the grey areas.” Next, there are the two women who are an important part of Sidney’s life. One has his heart; the other intrigues him and also happens to fall in love with him.
Besides the characters, the scripts and settings these characters come alive in are fabulous. From the “what the dickens!” exclamation (that is in great danger of becoming the new and hip catchphrase) made popular by Mrs. Maguire to the peeks into the pasts of soldiers (the finale particularly heartbreaking in this instance), everything is stellar.
The writing is continuously exceptional and heartbreakingly thought-provoking and I was impressed more than once with the conversations. I especially loved the “bromance” between best friends Sidney and Geordie. Geordie might fall into the traps of clichés when it comes to detectives, but he’s also a man who doesn’t conform. He’s a family man who earnestly loves his family and in his own way helps Sidney move past his own dark journeys.
If you like costume drama or “cozy mysteries,” Grantchester is well worth experiencing. The fact that fiction is mirroring reality only serves to exceed what our expectations might be of this detective series. It’s somehow still relevant to our lives today and has something to teach us even still.
Have you seen Grantchester? Are you excited more episodes are on the way? Share any comments you have down below!
“The stuff that dreams are made of.”
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
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