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'Grantchester' Wistfully Mixes Love and Murder Mystery
March 27, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment
 

Grantchester, which returns at 9 p.m. ET Sunday for its second season, reminds us how PBS’s Masterpiece Theater earned its reputation. (Check local listings)

Just because every show doesn’t have the intangible magic of the late lamented Downton Abbey doesn’t mean a Grantchester, charmingly set in the 1950s, isn’t well worth the time.

A murder mystery and wistful love story named after a bucolic English village where a surprising number of people get bumped off, Grantchester is more the Masterpiece norm, and needn’t utter a syllable of apology for it.

James Norton plays Sidney Chambers, an Anglican vicar who moonlights as an unofficial partner to Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green, top with Norton).

Keating is a gruff old cop, the kind of impatient guy who always acts like the coffee is cold and his feet hurt. Chambers has less forensics background and better people skills, which gives the team synergy. Or would have, if anyone in the 1950s used the word synergy.

The mysteries they solve, and the deductive and intuitive process by which they operate, won’t feel unique to fans of detective dramas, particularly British detective dramas.

Happily, that matters not, since James Runcie, on whose series of short stories most of the TV episodes are based, has created solid, nuanced characters and sent them into situations that invite clever solutions.

We also like all the characters; even the ones who are perpetually grumpy like Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones, right), Chambers’ scolding housekeeper.

Just because many of the characters have a wry edge, it doesn’t mean the cases themselves are light or frivolous. In the first of this season’s six episodes, a murdered teenage girl turns out to have fallen into a child pornography ring. Equally troubling, she had sought a way out and felt no one could help her, including Chambers.

Later episodes this season will tackle complicated issues like the death penalty.

Grantchester often has the pastoral look we associate fondly with period pieces set in the British countryside, and the village seems largely insulated from many of the struggles Britain underwent in the 1950s as it put itself back together after the devastation of World War II.

Yet a good part of the show’s appeal lies in a deep undercurrent of melancholy, driven for Chambers by the fact that he suffers from an apparently insoluble case of doomed love.

He’s as eligible as a bachelor could get, yet he only wants one woman, Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie), and she’s the one he can never have.

Compounding the tragedy, she loves him back, but her wealthy father promised her to someone from their social class, Guy Hopkins (Tom Austen), and back in the 1950s that left her no choice but to marry him.

Though she doesn’t live in Grantchester any more, we see her this season. While she and Sidney both conduct themselves impeccably, Norton and Christie convey beautifully their mutual aching for what could have been.

In the end, Grantchester delivers on both halves of a twofer: engaging solutions to crimes that occur and the unattainable vision of a romance that cannot.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Emily
I was looking forward to this season's episodes. However, the MAGIC seems to be gone. Can't put my finger on it really, what is missing. Sidney doesn't seem so love forlorn as he claims to be for Amanda. There is a missing tension between all the characters. What has changed???
Apr 11, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
 
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