(James Norton and Robson Green)
The second series of Grantchester came to a close recently, and what a relief it was too.
The ITV drama, which began in 2014, follows an Anglican priest, Sidney Chambers (James Norton), and his DCI chum, Geordie Keating (Robson Green), as they solve crimes together in 1950s Cambridgeshire.
With a slight Miss Marple theme to the plot style, this series is all about Sidney finding clues hidden amongst the undergrowth of his work in the quaint village of Grantchester and helping to solve crimes.
However, unlike the previous series, this one was tense and depressing from start to finish.
The first series had seen a fun, cheeky relationship between Sidney and Geordie, and there was the scandalous love interest between the leading man and the well-to-do Amanda Hopkins (Morven Christie). Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) had been oddly humorous as the militant housekeeper, much like the sweet and sour character of Bridgette McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack) in Father Brown. And last but not least, the jabbering and awkward Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) had added a quaint, childlike presence to the series.
Yet, come series two, this spicy blend of strong elements had curdled beyond repair. In the first series Sidney had been selfish and impulsive, but strangely real and inspiring. Geordie had been the same; an over-worked, tired middle-aged man with temper issues, yet someone that much of the audience could relate to.
But in the second series, Sidney and Geordie had become gradually estranged, in a rather sulky childish way. The negative aspects of their characters seemed to grow out of proportion and were forced onto screen in a hap-hazard way. It was a shame, because Norton and Green are two British television actors I admire and was disappointed to see in such unfortunate roles.
Sidney’s obsession with Amanda was grating and needed to be dropped if the story was to remain fluid and driven. It was just a lazy continuation of a frail narrative thread that didn’t expand the themes or heighten our interest of the characters. It was simply dead wood and made Sidney look tragic rather than romantically heroic and didn’t connect to the purpose of the series or its storyline smoothly.
Mrs. Maguire stayed the same in this series as in the last. Even although she has always been consistently aggressive, reminding one of a repressed hospital matron, her lack of balanced dimensions was made ever so slightly better in this series by her desire to help Sidney do the right thing in times of personal and religious crisis.
Separated from Sidney, Leonard was a reasonably strong character. The fact that he was pigeonholed as a gay character with no room for scope wasn’t a good move. His storyline of homosexuality in conservative 1950s England was interesting and at some points, moving.
However, this idea that his sexuality was his only purpose as a character made me feel his potential was wasted and his identity denied. His sexuality was relevant and poignant, but he could have been made much more purposeful and engaging through connecting to the wider context of the story. Once again, Sidney’s treatment of Leonard was aggravating throughout the series. He hardly ever treated him as a friend or colleague and was wrapped up in his own affairs, causing Sidney to become an even more unlikeable figure.
The episodes themselves were brought down in quality and enjoyment by these negative elements. However, to be fair, a lot of the drama and the complex murder mystery aspects were interesting and had a high degree of intriguing complexity.
The main thread of the story was excellent and intertwined with the other aspects of the series in a dramatic and exciting way. The sub-plots were strong in their own way and moved around between victims with diverse backgrounds and murderers with intelligent motives with a great deal of thought. The use of Cambridgeshire’s beautiful scenery and communities added vivid colour and diversity to the treatment of quaint English themes.
Overall, the series was too dark. Its themes and characters lacked dimension and offered a stale or overly bitter taste. The style of the episodes was good and that is really the only reason I stayed with Grantchester this year. However, it was a series that could have done with a lot more thought and careful grooming to make it a strong and sustainable television drama.
(James Norton and Robson Green)
by Caroline Malcolm