Grantchester is a solid detective drama, but the 1950s don't need our modern ideals
Time for a confession: I had never seen Grantchester (ITV). From what I’d gleaned it seemed to be a hodge-podge of bits from other shows: a crime-solving clergyman, a 1950s period setting and a plain-speaking Robson Green, to name but three. Yet the fact it is back for a sixth series, and has proved to be a wildly popular international hit - sold to 162 countries - means it must have something going for it, so I settled down to my first episode.
The script was neat, concerned with a crime to solve at a holiday camp. The host (Andy Nyman, so good recently in Unforgotten) was found dead and when the local detective declared: “Natural causes, I’d stake my life on it,” we were pretty clear that it was anything but natural, and a murder case that only DCI Geordie Keating (Green) and Reverend Will Davenport (Tom Brittney) were capable of solving.
Things turned dark rather quickly - Nyman’s character turned out to be running the camp as a knocking shop, pimping out women to the guests then secretly photographing them in flagrante for the purposes of blackmail. You didn’t get that on Hi-de-Hi!. One of these women was played by Rachael Stirling, a fine actress whose TV career is a bit of a puzzle: almost always in supporting roles, when she clearly has the talent to do much more.
James Runcie, writer of the original novels, has said the show requires a “sexy vicar” and, as replacement for James Norton’s Sidney Chambers, Will fits the bill with his leather jacket and good looks, and the set design for the camp was so clearly inspired by Kellerman’s in Dirty Dancing that you half-expected him to smoulder: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” He didn’t seem very authentically 1950s though, and that was the problem with the show as a whole. It presents the Fifties through a modern lens. Curate Leonard (Al Weaver) was hiding his homosexuality from the wider world yet sharing a bed with his partner at the holiday camp, a state of affairs that Will greeted with a knowing smile.
Still, taking it as inconsequential entertainment and it does the job. Green gets the best lines. “You don’t have a type. From a nun to a prostitute - it’s almost Biblical,” he quipped, poking fun at Will and the storylines on our behalf.