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Grantchester, Season 2 (PBS/DVD/2015)

The second season of this fun show, “Grantchester” has taken a darker turn, which has made it all the more enjoyable to watch.  Set in the real community of Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, England, during the 1950s, Daisy Coulam’s creation seemed to be on the road of “Father Brown,” or “Murder, She Wrote” , kindly, politically-correct, deadly dull. 

But this CofE clergyman, Sidney Chambers (James Norton), while a religious, is also an amateur sleuth with a keen nose for ferreting out crime and a solid help to police detective Geordie Keating (Robson Green), an older, experienced, more bitter man. 

What makes this fine series even finer is Chambers’ love/hate relationship with Detective Inspector Keating; different generations, with differing views on how to solve crimes without creating them themselves.  The emotional strength between the two characters (undoubtedly fueled by the emotional strengths between the two actors) is striking, real and meaningful.  You don’t see this kind of under-pinning between hetero men so cleanly observed in television writing and in the execution by the actors.

Creator/writer Coulam has a strong sense of the period, with this town only a couple of miles from Cambridge University.  The river Cam, hundreds of years ago known as river Grante, flows nearby.  The photography shows a largely agricultural area, with a major highway (M1) close at hand.  So, as the town we see is pre-21st Century, and the costumes, autos, newspapers, etc, reek of authenticity, all of it adds to the flavor of the show.

The six hour-long episodes start off with our good padre being falsely accused, and subsequently arrested, for sexual assault on a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, based on her fantasy-driven diary. 

Next, he and Geordie investigate how and why a Cambridge lecturer takes a deadly tumble off a high-up college spire, opening up a number of cans of worms about academic freedoms, not to mention was he murdered?

Third episode investigates who killed a middle-aged man inside Sydney’s church, and is it the young man who confesses?  Too easy by half, is the thinking, and so…..

Fourthly: while a local teenage boy, Gary Bell (Sam Frenchum), is to be put in trial for murder, the two men find their approaches to determining guilt to be far apart, leading to a dangerous slash in the fabric of their friendship.

Episode five explores how deeply Chambers feels about his flock, Gary is taken closer to the gallows for a murder we don’t believe he made.  Will there be a reprieve?

The final episode shows Sidney in a total funk, depressed, drinking too much, missing sermons, after he loses this battle with the courts to keep this young man alive.  As a result, he is being spied upon by the Ecclesiastical authority.  Will he keep his job, at which he is excellent?

The writing, by Coulam, James Runcie, John Jackson and Joshua St. Johnston, is sturdy and compelling, allowing directors Tim Fywell, Edward Bennett and David O’Neill to utilize the talents of the many actors needed.  In addition to Norton and Green (and you have to have seen Norton’s brilliant work in the Brit series, “Happy Valley,” wherein he plays a psychotic killer, to see how qualified and varied an actor he is), Morven Christie is the woman he should have married before she made a serious error marrying a selfish rich man, and Tessa Peake-Jones returns as his moralizing housekeeper, at a loss to protect Chambers from himself.

Al Weaver as a closeted gay minister makes the period’s hostility towards homosexuality quite vivid (as Leonard Finch, he turns down a possible relationship with a handsome man due to his internalized homophobia).  Neil Morrissey and Claudie Blakley are an arresting older couple whose daughter was murdered and the father acts on bad assumptions and gets them both into serious hot water.  But all the casting is superior.  Thank casting directors Victor Jenkins and Kelly Valentine Hendry for their excellent seeking-out of British actors.

This series, especially in this second season, with a third one set for next year, is absorbing, amusing and telling in its thinking.  See if you agree.