PBS Masterpiece presents a dashingly handsome priest/sleuth in ‘Grantchester’

Grantchester is the name of a village in Cambridgeshire, England in the UK, it is the name of a necktie knot and now it is the name of a PBS detective series. This isn’t the grimy streets of Inspector Morse. “Grantchester” takes us back to the 1950s and into the live of an Anglican vicar, Sidney Chambers (James Norton). “Grantchester” premiere on PBS Masterpiece at 9/8C on Sunday. Check local listings.

While Inspector Morse as played by the late John Thaw (1942-2002) was older and grumpy and could not be described as handsome, and even his sidekick Inspector Robert Lewis is played by the pleasant-faced but not handsome Kevin Whately, Chambers as played by Norton is the stuff that romantic heroes are made of. Norton is blond and trim. He has a dazzling smile and we see it at the very beginning.

As Morse was a bitterly lonely man, Chambers is a man in love. Where is his angst?

Chambers fought in World War II as a soldier in the Scots Guards. While Morse aspired to high culture with a love of opera, something that helps him solve a murder in one of the episodes of the TV  series, Chambers like jazz and he has no problem attracting women. As an Anglican priest, he may marry.

The stories are based on James Runcie’s stories, “The Grantchester Mysteries” and Runcie was inspired by his father, Robert Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Grantchester is not like your average village.  Because many current and former academics from the nearby University of Cambridge live there, the intellectual climate is quite high and some say that it has the world’s highest concentration of Nobel Prize winners. Consider that in 2011, the population was only 540.

During his stay in Berlin, Edwardian poet Rupert Brooke wrote about his homesickness in “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester” (1912).  The village was also the subject of a Pink Floyd song “Grantchester Meadows” but that is forward into the future (1969).

For the TV series, the Church of St Andrew & St Mary is used for church interior and churchyard scenes. A private home in Lemsford, Hertfordshire, is used for the vicarage. You’ll get some of the feel of Grantchester.

Into this cozy place in the 1950s, Chambers is sent. We first see him dressed in plain clothes, having an innocently flirtatious scene with the vivacious Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie). They are in love, but don’t seem to know it, or at least have yet to publicly realize it. They are old friends. She knows his sister, Jennifer, and went to school with her. Yet at the end of episode 1, which is basically, an origin story, she will give Chambers devastating news, breaking his heart and hers.

Yet this is in the background. Chambers has generously volunteered to perform the services for a man who has committed suicide. The young German widow is grateful; the mistress of the dead man is concerned. She doesn’t believe it was a suicide and pleads with the young vicar to investigate. Through his inquiries, Chambers meets the gruff Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green).

It’s not clear that Geordie is the inspector’s real name as he is a Geordie from North East of England. Geordie is a nickname given to people from Tyneside who speak that dialect. Keating is older, shorter and wiry, with graying hair. He is settled with three kids and a wife. He also fought in World War II. Green is 50; Norton is 30. They are a generation apart.

Keating isn’t convinced that the man was actually murdered but eventually, Chambers’ inquiries and even a theft eventually convince him and together they sold the murder. Chambers must balance is duties as a priest and his sacred oath with his desire for justice. Tessa Peake-Jones plays the vicar’s judgmental landlady, Mrs. Maguire, who attempts to mother him.

“Grantchester” is part of PBS  and airs beginning on 18 January, on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET (Check local listings).

“The Old Vicarage, Grantchester”

(Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)
Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe . . .
                            ‘Du lieber Gott!’

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; — and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten’s not verboten.

ειθε γενοιμην . . . would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! —
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low: . . .
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by . . .
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean . . .
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) . . .

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

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