The Weekend Australian - Review
New vicar has rolled into town
Some internet wag in a chatroom recently described British crime shows as “small village detective things,” and it’s as good a description as any of ITV’s period whodunit Grantchester, which now debuts its recent and strong fifth season of a half-dozen episodes on the ABC, the program’s long-time Australian home.
For the benefit of newcomers, Grantchester is a village in Cambridgeshire, England, some 3km south of the city known for its storied university.
In the 1950s, World War II veteran and now Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (TV veteran, singer and angler Robson Green) works the crime beat, which is busier than one might imagine given the bucolic rural setting. For the first three series, DI Keating was aided in his inquiries by Anglican vicar and former Scots Guard officer Sidney Chambers (James Norton), whose gentle and methodical approach towards questioning witnesses and suspects balanced the policeman’s gruff and more cynical demeanour.
Telling one interviewer there were “other conflicted souls to explore,” Norton left the show amicably in early 2019, and has worked steadily since (he was John Brooke in last year’s acclaimed new film version of Little Women).
Veteran Masterpiece strategist and Grantchester co-executive producer Rebecca Eaton steered the narrative to provide an orderly transition, promising audiences would love the new vicar. And thus far they do: 27-year-old Tom Brittney (Outlander, Call the Midwife) has quickly become a fan favourite as the Reverend William Davenport, a voluntarily celibate former inner-city chaplain from a troubled background who favours motorcycles, rock’n’roll and boxing.
In the season’s first case, Keating and Davenport, who insists on being called Will, are summoned to one of three women’s colleges in the area when student Jessica Hall is found floating face-up in a river. The suspects include a rude group of Cambridge men, some suspiciously circuitous classmates of the deceased and local waiter Matthew Butler (Jim Caesar).
Promising storylines manifest themselves not only in Butler’s arc but the first appearance of pushy young journalist Ellie Harding (Lauren Carse), who has a way of tricking Will into revealing bits of information but also seems to like him. “I wouldn’t bother, he’s celibate,” Keating advises. “Oh, you’re that Will,” she retorts, neatly laying the groundwork for what promises to be an interesting dimension to the season. “Should change your name to Won’t.”
Grantchester has always benefited from situations and storylines both balanced and methodical. Ongoing subplots feature gay Anglican curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) and his blossoming relationship with local photographer Daniel Marlowe (Oliver Dimsdale), the vicarage’s deeply religious housekeeper Sylvia (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Will’s recently widowed mother Amelia (Jemma Redgrave), with whom he has a rather tense relationship.
Having seamlessly and successfully injected new blood into a consistently rewarding small village thing, Grantchester continues to provide economical genre pleasures for fans of genteel mysteries that exhibit just enough of the real world’s naughtiness without up-ending the familiar and thus reassuring social order.