Plot: Sidney (James Norton) is not your typical vicar, as he has passions outside the faith such as jazz, women, and most of all, copious amounts of alcohol. He does his best to balance his sinful urges with his position as a man of faith, caring for his parishioners and trying to make sense of the mysteries of life. Although he feels a strong attraction to his friend Amanda (Morven Christie), he is unable to fully commit to her, given his place in life and conflicted emotions. When one of his parishioners passes on, he learns there were mysterious circumstances and decides he needs answers. He also learns that his flock will reveal a lot of information in the confessional booth, that they would otherwise never make known. A bond between Sidney and local detective Geordie (Robson Green) blossoms, as shared passions and pasts draw them closer. The two also have their not so similar traits, but they play off each other well. Soon Sidney and Geordie embark on a series of cases, trying to deliver justice and the truth, while also managing their own personal issues.
Entertainment Value: This first season of Grantchester offers up six episodes, each with a unique, mostly contained case. While this episodic side of the show ensures you can skip around to an extent, there’s also continuing development, mostly around Sidney, but others as well. I like this approach, as it allows each case to be given time to shine, while also rewarding those viewers who watch them in order. The odd couple dynamic is a well worn plot device, especially in the crime solving genre, as watching two polar opposites trying to crack cases can be quite fun. In the case of Grantchester, we have that to an extent, but in truth Sidney and Geordie are quite similar, just taken different paths in life. The series also has a slightly fish out of water feel, as Sidney is one of the more unusual choices for an investigation series. A priest, especially one with such a colorful persona, proves to be an effective narrative device, however. So while we’ve seen these tropes before, Grantchester never feels rehashed in the least. And watching Sidney deal with his inner conflicts is always interesting, especially given his past and the things he experiences in the investigations. He is a well crafted, deep character and I look forward to how he develops over the course of the series.
The cases have a good variety of topics and crimes, most of which are able to spark some development within Sidney. When a case involves a thread he is familiar with, such as episodes that make him look back at his war service, it adds a lot to the depth of the character and by turn, the show as a whole. The series is set in the 1950s, so some of the topics explored have a different perspective than if the show was modern, like an episode about homosexuality. How Sidney reacts is interesting and in situations where he has to question his place in the church and in life, actor James Norton really shines in the role. He is able to convey the inner conflict and constant balancing act, which is no simple task. Norton is able to play off his costars well too, especially Robson Green and Morven Christie. This is certainly not the typical character to center a detective show on, but it helps Grantchester stand out from the crowd. Not all of the narrative threads work, but most do and rarely do the case stories feel forced or rushed. If you’re a fan of this kind of show, Grantchester is well worth a look.