Grantchester, ITV, James Norton, Robson Green, Morven Christie PREVIEW

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers and ROBSON GREEN as Geordie Keating in Grantchester
Odd couple – Geordie and Sidney (Robson Green and James Norton). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Monday, 6 October, 9pm

Story: It’s 1953, and just outside the Cambridgeshire village of Grantchester, local vicar Sidney Chambers officiates at the funeral of a solicitor, who committed suicide. However, after the service, glamorous Pamela reveals to Sidney that she was having an affair with the solicitor – and his death wasn’t suicide.

IS THERE ANYTHING less edgy and enticing than another dog-collar detective?

It was only last year since that the Beeb resurrected its bland, nostalgic take on GK Chesterton’s Father Brown. And does anyone have fond memories of Father Dowling or Cadfael?

Reality has intruded on these confections, so that after all the scandals of recent years Catholic priests are now most likely to be portrayed on TV and in novels as sinister figures. It is only in comedies such as Rev and Father Ted that large TV audiences have wanted to embrace religion.

James Norton as the vicar detective

So, now we have ITV’s major new drama with a vicar as its crime-solving hero. And it’s based on a

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers and MORVEN CHRISTIE as Amanda Kendall in Grantchester
In love but not together – Sidney and Amanda

series of books written by James Runcie, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.

My own expectations on heading to ITV headquarters in Gray’s Inn Road to see a preview of the series along with the press contingent and the show’s stars – James Norton, Robson Green and Morven Christie – were very low. I just knew it was going to be dull and twee, but with lovely Cambridgeshire scenery.

Here I must offer a contrite confession. I was wrong. Wrong and pleasantly intrigued by the mystery and characters.

Vicar and war-tested soldier

The show’s secret is that Sidney Chambers is not some bland holy man doing God’s work on behalf of the local incompetent police force. There’s more to him.

RACHEL SHELLEY as Pamela Morton in ITV's Grantchester
Woman with a secret – Pamela Morton

The year is 1953 and Sidney has recently served in the Scots Guards during the Second World War, fighting and killing people. Now, as Grantchester’s vicar, he is in a fairly doomed relationship with heiress Amanda Kendall, sometimes wilts under the pressure to be good all the time and is willing to break rules. Most shockingly, he prefers whisky to sherry.

James Norton as Sidney is easily star of the show, playing the character with charm and vulnerability. Odd to think that while filming Grantchester he was simultaneously portraying the sadistic Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley. That’s quite a contrast.

Dark side of the 1950s

Grantchester‘s other strength is that it is no rose-tinted trip down chocolate box lane, like so many period dramas are. The 1950s are not shown as a romanticised lost age, but one that was unforgiving

JAMES NORTON as Sidney Chambers, MORVEN CHRISTIE as Amanda Kendall in Grantchester
Destined to be apart? Amanda and Sidney

to homosexuals – later in the series we meet closeted curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) – the death penalty is even more unforgiving towards those wrongly convicted, and life was pretty restricted for women, so Amanda’s aristocratic father is about to marry her off.

The opening story sees Sidney landed with a problem by one of his flock, the vampish Pamela Morton. She reveals that the solicitor Sidney has just buried was her illicit lover and that he did not commit suicide.

Sidney tries to interest local detective Geordie Keating in the claim. Robson Green plays the cynical cop with a comedy touch, and the two make a fine odd couple. We also meet Sidney’s scowling housekeeper Mrs Maguire, played by Tessa Peake-Jones.

Grantchester should be a big hit

The opener is a good mix of heartbreak, some humour and someone’s passions running amok.

Don’t get me wrong. Grantchester won’t have viewers singing Hallelujah! every Monday at 9pm, but ITV have got an awful lot right in this drama, which looks likely to be a big hit.

Cast: James Norton Sidney Chambers, Robson Green Geordie Keating, Morven Christie Amanda Kendall, Tessa Peake-Jones Mrs Maguire, Al Weaver Leonard Finch, Pheline Roggan Hildegard Staunton, Fiona Button Jennifer Chambers, Ukweli Roach Johnny Johnson, Tom Austen Guy Hopkins, Pip Torrens Sir Edward Kendall, Kacey Ainsworth Cathy Keating, Rachel Shelley Pamela Morton, Michelle Duncan Annabel Morrison

Check out these links…
James Runcie interview
ITV announce Grantchester commission

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