Grantchester – Series Three. Acorn Media DVD Review

Anglican priest Sidney Chambers (James Norton) continues his unlikely sleuthing partnership with Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Greene).  You might have assumed that the small village of Grantchester would be a fairly quiet place – but not so.  Barely a week seems to go by without a mysterious murder occurring which requires both Sidney’s intuitive abilities and the harder-edged skills of Geordie.

Based on the novels by James Runcie (whose father, Robert Runcie, was a former Archbishop of Canterbury) Grantchester started airing in 2014.  All the ingredients required for a popular success are present and correct – a period (mid fifties) setting, personable lead actors and decent mysteries.  This release contains the Christmas Special from 2016 and the six episodes from series three which have just finished airing on ITV.

The Christmas Special wasn’t quite feature-length, but it was a little longer than a normal episode (running for sixty five minutes).  The murder of a bridegroom on his wedding day throws up numerous suspects.  Could his bride-to-be Linda Morgan (Maimie McCoy) be responsible?  If not, then possibly the murdered man’s son Felix Davies (Enzo Cilenti) might know more than he’s letting on.  But Geordie sees parallels in this case to an old, unsolved, murder and is convinced that Albert Tannen (Julian Glover) is the man they want.

It’s a shame that some of the episode doesn’t look very Christmassy (there’s no hiding the bright sunshine which is a dead giveaway it wasn’t filmed during the depths of winter) although later snowy scenes do slightly make up for this.  The wonderful Julian Glover never fails to impress and he’s on typically fine form here.  At first glance Albert Tannen seems to be a bitter old man, but there’s maybe more to him than meets the eye.

Sidney’s relationship with Amanda (Morven Christie) will have a major impact throughout series three.  Amanda has now left her husband Tom and faces an uncertain future.  Sidney is still infatuated with her (he was heartbroken when she married) but what would the village say if it became known that he had designs on a woman who was both pregnant and married?  When Amanda finds herself homeless it’s maybe no surprise that she ends up at the Vicarage (and on Christmas Eve too, very apt). Amanda and her newly-born daughter Grace will provide Sidney with a dilemma that has no easy answers.

Robson Greene & James Norton

As ever, the byplay between Norton and Greene and the incidental pleasures along the way are often just as important as the whodunnit.  In this one they visit a strip club (in the course of duty, naturally) something which Sidney takes in his stride.  A chaotic nativity play (featuring enthusiastic, but unruly, children) is a treat whilst the birth of Amanda’s child – with Sidney’s dour housekeeper Mrs Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) and curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) in attendance – is another stand-out moment.  Whilst Amanda’s upstairs and swearing like a trooper, Sidney’s outside and chugging down a bottle of whisky ….

The first episode of series three finds Sidney still conflicted over his feelings for Amanda. Things begin in a light-hearted way – with them tripping the light fantastic to the latest rock ‘n’ roll sounds and enjoying a moonlight bike ride – but it looks like their idyll will be short lived. He’s given a stern reminder by the new Archdeacon (Gary Beadle) about the importance of duty, which makes it plain that his role in the church and his relationship with Amanda simply aren’t compatible. Luckily he’s then targeted by a homicidal murderer, which rather takes his mind off his own problems ….

This week’s murder victim, Dr Atwell (Gregory Flow), had previously worked at a grim psychiatric hospital, now run by the foreboding Veronica Stone (Susannah Harker).  Sidney might be blameless of any wrongdoing but that doesn’t stop him from almost becoming another murder statistic (early on it’s clear something odd’s happening to him – he’s the recipient of dead crows and heavy-breathing phone calls).  As so often with the series, there’s a bleakness to the story which sharply contrasts with the peaceful and bucolic nature of the village.

Robson Greene & James Norton

What could be more pleasant and relaxing than a game of village cricket? Mmm, but this is Grantchester where death is a constant companion, so you shouldn’t be shocked to learn that one of the players, Zafar Ali (Dinesh Sundran), is later found dead. Like the rest of the team he appeared to have been affected by the beer (which had been laced with something unpleasant) but whilst everyone else recovered, he didn’t.

Casual racism isn’t far from the surface in this second episode, best exemplified by Geoff Towler (Peter Davison). It’s always a pleasure to see Davison and although he doesn’t get to wield a cricket bat in anger on the pitch, at least he does wave one around after Zafar’s brother accuses Towler’s daughter of being the murderer. Other running themes, such as Geordie’s affair with Margaret Ward (Seline Hezli), continue to simmer away and although Towler’s Masonic handshake with a disgusted Geordie seems to be a throwaway moment, we’ll see the Masonic theme again later in the series.

Episode three sees Leonard and his new ladyfriend Hillary (Emily Franklin) caught up in an armed robbery at the post office. As already touched upon, for many the appeal of Grantchester is as much to do with the soap-like elements as it is with the mysteries. And in addition to the ongoing saga of Sidney and Amanda as well as Geordie’s cheating ways, there’s also Leonard’s dilemma to consider.

A closet homosexual, it seems advisable that he has a wife as cover (and the vulnerable Hillary looks to be the ideal candidate). This sounds horrible and calculating, but Leonard’s a nice chap – just trapped by the moral confines of the era he lives in.  The mystery part of the episode is strong as well (although the gun-toting antics of Geordie and the others seems slightly anachronistic).

The fourth episode begins with Sidney lecturing his congregation about the dangers of giving into temptation – which given that he’d finally tumbled into bed with Amanda at the end of the previous instalment seems a tad rich. Of course, he’s no happier now than he was before (“how do I reconcile what I’ve done with what I believe?”). And things look no better for both Geordie and Leonard.

When the pressure of living a lie becomes too much, Leonard attempts suicide whilst Geordie’s wife, Cathy (Casey Ainsworth), finally learns about her husband’s affair. And if that wasn’t enough then Mrs Maguire’s long-lost husband, Ronnie (Charlie Higson), turns up out of the blue to tell her that he’s dying. It’s all going on this week ….

James Norton & Tessa Peake-Jones

This being Grantchester, there’s a crime to solve too (even though the tangled emotional lives of the regulars dominates). Christopher Fulford appears as Ezra Garson, the owner of a local factory where a badly injured girl was discovered. Corruption and the creeping influence of the Masons both have their part to play as Geordie finds that some of his colleagues, especially the oily Phil Wilkinson (Lorne McFadyen), can’t be trusted. Norton and Greene sparkle in the scenes where Sidney and Geordie find the complacent hypocrisy of those who should know better to be unbearable.

Episode five opens with Sidney on the road. He’s hunting down Ronnie, who last time absconded with Mrs Maguire’s life-savings (Sidney’s also, in part, running away from his own troubles). He finds Ronnie ensconced in a Romany camp and is staggered to learn that he has another wife and several daughters.

Then Ronnie is murdered and Sidney is accused of the crime. But before long Sidney’s turned sleuth again whilst Mrs Maguire has to come to terms with the fact that her newly-murdered husband had been a bigamist. Tessa Peake-Jones is on good form here. Upon reaching the camp, Mrs Maguire eyes her rival with disdain. “I wouldn’t have said Ronnie would chose a woman with long and wayward hair”.

If the gypsies seem a little too clean and not terribly interesting, then the episode still engages thanks to the continuing subplots concerning the regulars. Geordie’s been thrown out of the house (although Cathy thoughtfully packed him two pairs of pyjamas before she did so) whilst Sidney’s crisis of confidence shows no signs of abating as Amanda issues him with a stark ultimatum – the church or her.

In the final episode he makes his choice – her.  Amanda’s pleased to learn that Sidney’s prepared to turn his back on the church, but others – such as Mrs Maguire and Leonard – aren’t quite so happy.  Geordie is supportive, although given that his carnal indulgences didn’t end well (he’s now sleeping in the office with only a bottle of whisky for company) possibly he wasn’t the best person to be handing out advice.

Robson Greene

And it’s Geordie’s drinking and dark mood which has an adverse effect on his ability as a police officer.  When a young boy, Jacob Riley (Darius Greenlaw), goes missing, Sidney has to step in as the cool voice of reason after Geordie loses his grip.

As the series draws to a close, there’s a sense of happy endings all round (with one notable exception).  Mrs Maguire and Jack Chapman (Nick Brimble) tie the knot, Leonard finally admits his feelings for Daniel Marlowe (Oliver Dimsdale) whilst Geordie and Cathy make the first steps towards a possible reconciliation. That just leaves our lovestruck vicar, but when Amanda learns that he hasn’t been able to hand in his letter of resignation then it’s plain that there’s nothing left for her in Grantchester.

Grantchester – Series Three is split across two DVDs.  The first contains the Christmas Special and the first three episodes of series three whilst disc two contains episodes four, five and six as well as several special features.  Two making-of featurettes – Inside the Christmas Special (dur. 13:57) and The Making of Series Three (dur. 10:02) – offer entertaining interviews with the cast and crew. Also included is a deleted scenes package (dur. 19:39).

With a strong cast of regulars put through the emotional mill each week, well-crafted “murders of the week” and a roster of familiar faces guesting, Grantchester remains both addictive and entertaining.  Recommended.

Grantchester – Series Three is released by Acorn Media on the 12th of June 2017.  RRP £24.99.