Grantchester is a quintessentially English crime drama set in an idyllic, small town. You’d be forgiven for thinking that with a description like that it must have a lot in common with Broadchurch. But while the latter is a gripping, dramatic success, the former is a painfully slow period piece that covers too much ground without really digging deep into anything.
The series is based on some stories and books by James Runcie who modelled the lead character on his own father who served in the Second World War and who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1980s. The show stars James Norton as Sidney Chambers, an Anglican priest with a predilection for whiskey, jazz and women (and not necessarily in that particular order).
Chambers is troubled by his memories of the war and has post-traumatic stress disorder. He is also struggling with the reasons why he became a member of the clergy, not least because the woman he loves – Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie) – is a snob who is marrying a rich man for his money. Chambers does find his calling when he has a hunch about a parishioner who denied in suspicious circumstances, because he believed this was a murder (and not a suicide, as it originally appeared). So the priest teams up with the practical and no-nonsense, local detective, Geordie Keating (Robson Green).
The pair solve crimes because people feel like they can confide more in the charismatic and inquisitive clergyman than his partner. In actual fact, the priest uses these confessions and discussions to piece together clues and solve the mysteries. Grantchester’s biggest failing is that it is too superficial. Six crimes are solved across as many episodes meaning there isn’t an awful lot of time to dig beneath the surface. When this is combined with some broad stereotypes, paper-thin characterisation and contemporary-like subplots that feel tacked on, it can make for some strange and difficult viewing.
The special features on the DVD are rather average and include some deleted scenes and an additional video compiling the priest’s flashbacks to the war. There are also some character featurettes and a “Making of Grantchester”. The latter includes interviews predominantly with the actors as well as Runcie and screenwriter, Daisy Coulam.
Grantchester is a quaint, period drama that focuses too much time on human dysfunctions rather than the more exciting elements involved with solving a mystery. This drama is pleasing enough on the eyes but it often lacks substance and isn’t as entertaining as it could be. While Grantchester may have its moments and while it does have some similarities to another TV show called Father Brown, one thing’s for certain, it certainly isn’t a patch on Broadchurch.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Special Features Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Grantchester is out now on DVD through Roadshow.