The first series of Grantchester was perfectly pleasant

I was slightly disappointed to find out that the episode of Grantchester that just aired on the ABC was the first series finale. I was enjoying it – yes, it’s another British detective show, and there are several of them, but there was something about the charm of Grantchester, and also the attractiveness of James Norton (this is an important factor) that made it so watchable. In addition, the continuing storylines and character development within the show elevate it from being a standard procedural to something much more interesting, like the first season of The Good Wife. It’s also important to note that solving the murder was important to the audience because it was important to Sydney, and there were particular reasons that he was drawn to some mysteries over others.

In the series premiere of Grantchester, Sydney Chambers conducts a funeral for a man who is believed to have committed suicide, which is a mortal sin, so none of the other churches are willing to hold the funeral. The man’s widow however, believes that he was murdered, and because Sydney has a good heart, he looks into the situation, to the slight bemusement of the Detective Inspector, Geordie Keating. Over the course of the series, Sydney and Geordie’s friendship grows, as they’re both affected by what they saw in the war. I’m a bit shaky on the timeline of Grantchester, but I believe that Sydney became a priest after his experience in World War II. For most of the series, Sydney is haunted by something that happened in Germany; he tries to drink away the pain, and drinks more as the series continues, because the woman he loves is getting married to someone else. It’s a lot to process.

What makes Sydney Chambers a compelling lead for the show is that he’s as human as everyone else. He’s a priest, not a saint, just as Jane Villanueva is a virgin but not a saint. He drinks, he gets violent and he has demons. He ruins a relationship with a woman who loves him by sleeping with a jazz singer. He’s Church of England, but he carries just as much guilt as the most devout Catholic. In the first series finale, Sydney is confronted by a case that makes him remember what he did in the war, and it almost becomes too much to bear as he sees another man who is haunted by his own actions take his own life. It didn’t matter who committed the murders in this week’s episode as much as it mattered how those murders and the motivations of the killer affected Sydney. Having just lost Hildegard, Sydney pours out his secret to Geordie, in whom he has a friend; it’s Geordie’s bullet wound that brings up the guilt of what he had to do.

James Norton performs all of this beautifully. It wasn’t until I heard Maureen Ryan say that James Norton played the creepy guy in Happy Valley that I figured out where I’d seen him before. James Norton needs a role that’s going to win him some major awards, because he sells both the creepy rapist and the attractive, haunted priest so well that it’s really hard for me to accept that it’s the same actor in those two roles.

Grantchester isn’t your top-notch crime drama, but I don’t need it to be. If the second series is written with as much care for the characters as the first, I’m going to keep watching.

Other thoughts:

  • All of the characters in this show are great, up to and including Mrs Maguire, Sydney’s housekeeper, and Leonard, who Sydney has taken on as a kind of apprentice. I don’t know what you call it in the church
  • Morven Christie is great as Amanda Kendall, the woman that loves Sydney as much as he loves her, but she realised that they would never be able to marry long before he did. The way that both Christie and Norton play their final scene in the art gallery was incredibly moving, and they sell two people who love each other dearly but know they can’t be together. I also liked the detail in the episode that Amanda didn’t want to get married because it would mean she’d have to leave her job. Grantchester doesn’t overlook what life was like for women in the 1950s.
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