Grit­tier ‘Grantch­ester’: Mur­der mys­tery gets heav­ier in sea­son 3

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - COVER STORY - By Jac­que­line Spendlove

There are a few things I’ve learned from Bri­tish television: You should al­ways of­fer your guests tea, hats are es­sen­tial ladies’ wedding at­tire, and clergy folk have much more thrilling jobs than I thought they did.

I can’t im­me­di­ately name a priest- or vicar-cen­tric Amer­i­can TV se­ries, but at least half a dozen Bri­tish ones come to mind with min­i­mal ef­fort. Oddly enough, a re­spectable num­ber of th­ese in­volve the lead cler­gyper­son moon­light­ing as a de­tec­tive.Are men and women of the cloth par­tic­u­larly suited to solv­ing crimes? If “Fa­ther Ted,” “Cad­fael” and “Grantch­ester” are any­thing to go by, then yes, they sure are. The lat­ter of th­ese, an­other fine “Mas­ter­piece Mys­tery” of­fer­ing, has proved to be a hit on both sides of the pond, thanks to its ap­peal­ing leads and ex­cel­lently writ­ten sto­ry­lines. Catch a new episode of “Grantch­ester” when it airs Sun­day, July 2, on PBS.

The se­ries is a de­tec­tive drama that airs on ITV in the U.K. Based on a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries by James Run­cie, it takes place in the 1950s in the tit­u­lar Grantch­ester, an ar­ca­dian vil­lage in Cam­bridgeshire.

Lon­don na­tive James Nor­ton (“Happy Val­ley”) leads the cast as Rev. Sid­ney Cham­bers, an ami­able (and hand­some!) young Angli­can priest and for­mer Scots Guards of­fi­cer. He gets drawn into a mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the first episode, much to the dis­ap­proval of over­worked lo­cal de­tec­tive Ge­ordie Keat­ing (Robson Green, “Strike Back”).

As it turns out, how­ever, Sid­ney’s in­tu­itive, coax­ing tech­nique proves the per­fect foil for Ge­ordie’s gruff, no-non­sense ap­proach when it comes to ques­tion­ing sus­pects and wit­nesses. From there, an un­likely part­ner­ship forms, which grows into gen­uine friend­ship off the clock.The two have be­come a fa­vorite duo on TV right now, thanks in part to the fan­tas­tic chem­istry be­tween the two ac­tors.

“It’s a very un­likely re­la­tion­ship,” Green said when in­ter­viewed by Bri­tish life­style and en­ter­tain­ment pro­gram “Lor­raine.” “It’s very off­beat, very en­dear­ing, and it’s a re­la­tion­ship that many peo­ple care about.”

Though the mys­tery-of-the-week for­mat keeps the se­ries chug­ging along, the on­go­ing per­sonal sto­ry­lines are what re­ally give the show its depth. Sea­son 2 (or se­ries 2, as the Brits call it) saw both Sid­ney and Ge­ordie deal­ing with dilem­mas of the heart, and view­ers were keen to find out where the new sea­son would take their re­spec­tive re­la­tion­ships.

Sid­ney’s case is a par­tic­u­larly com­pli­cated one. Through­out the se­ries, he’s been in love with Amanda Ken­dall (Mor­ven Christie, “The A Word”), an heiress whose mar­i­tal fu­ture lies in her wealthy fa­ther’s hands, though she re­turns Sid­ney’s af­fec­tions. She left her hus­band at the end of last sea­son, and gave birth to his child in the en­su­ing Christ­mas spe­cial.

Now, since openly declar­ing their (very ob­vi­ous) feel­ings for one an­other, she and Sid­ney have been liv­ing in a sort of limbo; they’re en­joy­ing spend­ing time to­gether, but they know that, Sid­ney’s po­si­tion be­ing what it is, they can’t ul­ti­mately end up to­gether.

“They’re liv­ing in de­nial.They’re hav­ing a lot of fun, but they are aware that they’re star-crossed, be­cause they can’t re­ally be to­gether,” Nor­ton ex­plained dur­ing a visit to “The One Show.” “It’s love vs. duty ... in the ‘50s, a vicar wasn’t al­lowed to marry a di­vor­cée, so if she is go­ing to sep­a­rate from her pre­vi­ous mar­riage, she be­comes un­avail­able to him.”

Ge­ordie may also cause some pursed lips this sea­son.We know he’s been hap­pily mar­ried to his wife, Cathy (Kacey Ainsworth, “EastEnders”), but there’s an ob­vi­ous at­trac­tion to Mar­garet (Se­line Hi­zli, “Land Girls”), his of­fice sec­re­tary, who, you may re­call, had a brief re­la­tion­ship with Sid­ney last sea­son, be­fore he ditched her for Amanda. I won’t give away any de­tails, but if you’ve watched the sea­son thus far, you’ll have wit­nessed cer­tain Ge­ordiecen­tric ac­tiv­i­ties that have drawn out­rage from au­di­ences in Bri­tain, where the full sea­son has al­ready aired.

“The whole se­ries is a lot darker and grit­tier,” Robson told Huff­in­g­ton Post U.K. “Ge­ordie is a fa­ther and hus­band in de­nial about his sit­u­a­tion, but that can only go on for so long. Both he and Sid­ney are be­ing reck­less with mat­ters of the heart.”

Of course, there’s still as im­prob­a­ble a num­ber of crimes and mur­ders as ever in bu­colic Grantch­ester, so mys­tery buffs still get their fix.This sea­son more than ever, how­ever, sees the cases of the week mixed in with the main cast’s per­sonal lives and in­ter­nal con­flicts.

You’ll no­tice some new faces this sea­son, both among the re­cur­ring cast and in one-off roles. Erst­while “EastEnders” star Gary Bea­dle joins the se­ries as Gabriel Atubo, the new Archdea­con who twists Sid­ney’s moral knife when he re­minds him that a cler­gy­man must put duty above his own needs and lead by ex­am­ple (which is pre­cisely the op­po­site of what Sid­ney wants to do right now). Peter Dav­i­son, whom “Doc­tor Who” fans may rec­og­nize as the fifth Doc­tor, ap­peared in last week’s episode as Ge­off Towler, a vil­lage so­lic­i­tor and cricket cap­tain who rules his fam­ily with an iron fist. Char­lie Higson (“Broad­church”) ap­pears later this sea­son as Ron­nie Maguire, the hus­band of Sid­ney’s iras­ci­ble house­keeper, who’s been miss­ing for 10 years.

James Nor­ton and Robson Green star in “Grantch­ester”

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