‘Grantchester’: A Lack of Faith

One is tempted to dismiss the fifth season of “Grantchester” as a calculated romance that dismisses faith in God and a life based on the teaching of the Bible, or, by extension, any holy book, as a quaint, old-fashioned notion. Yet from the beginning, the ITV and PBS Mystery series lacked faith in the formula of the books or in the institute of marriage.

Season 4 said farewell to Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and replaced him with another bachelor vicar, William Davenport (Tom Brittney). What is “Grantchester” without Sidney Chambers?

The first break of faith was the very first season (2014). We meet Sidney Chambers and understand his ill-fated puppy-dog obsession with the high-born, wealthy Amanda (Morven Christie), a friend of Sidney’s younger sister, Jennifer (Fiona Button). Sidney is troubled by his past service in World War II with the Scots Guard and chums around with the older, married Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green), also a World War II veteran. Sidney has a brief romance with a German widow, Hildegard (Pheline Roggan). At the end of the series, Amanda married another man, Guy Hopkins (Tom Austen), and Sidney is alone.

In the books, the Sidney Chambers character marries Hildegard. Somehow, when Daisy Coulam developed this series, a decision was made to keep the handsome vicar single, tragically in love, but single.

Series/Season 2 (2016), find Amanda’s marriage troubled, but Sidney with a new girlfriend, Margaret Ward (Seline Hizli), who then switches her affections to the married Geordie by Series/Season 3 (2017) by which time, Amanda is seeking a divorce and we are reminded that the Anglican Church doesn’t allow vicars to marry divorcees.

The series already has questioned not only the Anglican Church, but also the moral laws of England, in particular the laws on homosexuality. Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) is a very-in-the-closet gay Anglican curate who continues to have a romance with photographer, Daniel Marlowe (Oliver Dimsdale) after attempting to find a suitable wife.

Neither Sidney nor Leonard are chaste. Leonard, of course, can’t marry the object of his affections, but Sidney could, but must choose between the Anglican Church and Amanda. He chooses the church, a church with whom he has questionable faith as demonstrated in Series/Season 4, when with a barest of acquaintances Sidney sleeps with the daughter of his guest, Violet Todd (Simona Brown). Her father, Reverend Nathanial Todd (Paterson Joseph), is an African American and not likely Anglican. The romance continues, without a reappearance of Sidney’s sister, and he decides to emigrate to the United States to marry Violet. Violet and her own perception of faith and determination that not just black voices but a woman’s voice to be heard might make Sidney Chambers a better man, even with the quick intimacy forced by a tragic death, the romance and departure come too quickly. Sidney Chambers won’t leave the church because his flock needs him more than the single-mother Amanda, but the allure of foreign shores and an unknown flock have him leave this flock and his church?

Yet with the departure of Sidney Chambers (Norton wished to pursue other projects) and introduction of vicar, Will Davenport (Tom Brittney) the moral backbone of the series, dissolves into slippery warm jelly.  Davenport replaces Amanda as an entry into the aristocracy. Despite his motorcycle and boxing, he’s from a well-born, but broke family. His father, the cruel and arrogant Thomas Davenport (Nathanial Parker) dies during Series/Season 4 after a failed attempt at financing the estate.

What torments Will is his affair with the wife of his father’s friend, Meredith (Rachel Pickup), that resulted in a pregnancy. Will’s father doesn’t mind sharing conquests either.

By Series/Season 5, we can see the calculations in the writers room. I’m sure at the back of their minds is the possibility that the product of Will and Meredith’s affair might appear sometime in the future has already been planted there. The writers also likely thought: We need an easy path to the aristocrats. That’s Will, but he has no fortune. What about his mother? She needs to marry and that will make Will uncomfortable but will keep her at a comfortable distance from Will. There is no Amanda so who shall be the love interest? Ellie Harding, a reporter, and Will have a date in Episode 3 but their evening at the movies literally ends when Will has a case to look into at the movie theater. Later going to a night club, Will has a moment when he’s practically dry-humping her in public–in poor taste for the time, surely, but doubly so for a vicar. To make amends, he proposes to Ellie (Episode 4), but it is entirely too soon for her. What is the solution to Will’s problem?

In Episode 6, his mother and his soon-to-be stepfather, Clement Gurney-Clifford (Jonny Amies), meet. Will isn’t drunk so there’ll be no scene as when Sidney Chambers crashed in at Amanda’s home. The episode ends with a fallen “sister,” who had an affair with a father. As a result, Father O’Brian lets Sister Grace (Tracy Ann Oberman who is 24 years older than Brittney and closer in age to Jemma Redgrave who plays Will’s mother) run her order has she chooses, giving shelter to women escaping abusive situations. Will has sex with Sister Grace and Geordie figures it out.

While episodes 1-5 of Season 5 end with a sermon, Episode 6 does not.

Episode 1 ends with Will intoning:

Being cast out of Eden left us hopeless, despairing, craving a return to a place that was lost. But even though Jesus died
to cleanse us of our sins, we still find ways to sin against each other, to live in guilt and shame. But I refuse to believe
it’ll be this way. By God’s grace we can be forgiven. And we too can forgive. And in turn, find the hope for the world we want to live in.

Episode 2 ends with:

Family is one of life’s greatest blessings. Our path through life would be pretty lonely without anyone to share it with. Family is about compromise and service and duty. It is about
finding another way round. But family is also about
drawing a line, saying this far and no further. Enough is enough. Matthew says, “If your brother sins against you,tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens,
you have gained your brother.”

And if he or she doesn’t listen? Well, then take heart. For we are all His children. There is only one family. And that is the family of our Lord God. And we all belong.

Episode 3 is about faith:

Faith is the glue that binds us to God. Faith is about trust. Beware who, or what you put your faith in. Faith in a fantasy is destructive. Faith without question closes our eyes to the truth. Living a lie can only end in sorrow.

Being honest with ourselves is often the most painful path. When we fail to acknowledge the truth, we lie. And when we lie, we fall. And we take God with us.

In Episode 4:

The world is changing so fast. Each day, science pushes back the frontiers of our knowledge. Out there, the heavens. And in here, the mysteries of our minds. It’s easy to wonder, “Where is God?”

But even when we can’t perceive him, never doubt he is there. He is there constantly, in every act of love, kindness, forgiveness. And it’s only with God’s love, that we will make this modern age a world, not of horrors, but of wonders.

By Episode 5, things become darker:

God gave us Eden. He gave us perfection. And what did we do with it?   We destroyed it. We sinned. And we grew prideful and vengeful and angry. We surrounded ourselves with snakes who only want the worst for us. And who do we blame for that? We blame God.

How dare we? It is us. It is our doing. And it is all we deserve. God will always forgive, He will always offer salvation. But I don’t believe all of us deserve it. If we sin, we break God’s law. If you sin, you do not deserve his love. You do not deserve his salvation. You deserve all of the snakes and the misery and the suffering. That is all we deserve.It is all we deserve.

So having fornicated with a fallen nun, Sister Grace, instead of finding a better way to court Ellie, what does Will deserve?

“Grantchester” and its treatment of faith and a chaste life deeply contrasts the long-running “Father Brown” BBC One series that features a crime-solving and chaste Roman Catholic priest (Mark Williams). One is constantly reminded of his faith and he’s a fatherly figure with the naughtiness supplied by his younger cohorts. He also has a busy-body housekeeper, Mrs. Bridgette McCarthy (Sorcha Cusack).  The link to the aristocracy was originally supplied by Lady Felicia Montague (Nancy Carroll).

ITV does have a long-running show that began with a married detective, “Midsomer Murders.” Based on Caroline Graham’s “Chief Inspector Barnaby” book series, the original protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector  (DCI) Tom Barnaby, played with affable charm by John Nettles was married to Joyce (Jane Wymark) and had a daughter, Cully (Laura Howard). After 13 seasons, Nettles retired, but he was replaced by Neil Dudgeon, who plays the younger cousin of Tom Barnaby, DCI John Barnaby. John is married to Sarah (Fiona Dolman) and during Series/Season 16, they have a daughter. “Midsomer Murders” first aired in 1997 and this year is on its 21st series. “Father Brown,” which began in  2013, finished its eighth series/seasons this year and will return in 2021.

Married detectives aren’t such an anomaly. Think of “Columbo” (1968-2003) or “Hart to Hart” (1979-1984) or “McMillan & Wife” (1971-1977). “Grantchester” doesn’t even bother to tease with the will-they-won’t-they pull between two characters as seen in “Bones” (2005-2017) or “The Mentalist” (2008-2015).

In “Grantchester,” it’s the secondary characters who provide the best looks at married life within the constrictions of the Anglican Church. Leonard (Al Weaver) and Daniel (Oliver Dimsdale) cannot get married and their courtship is shy and tender. Mrs. Maguire becomes Mrs. Chapman and has her faith tested when she learns about Leonard’s sexual preference and the transgressions of her husbands.

While the actions does take place in and around Grantchester, the vicarage seems more of an impediment except as an occasional plot device. The updating so that the series deals with changing attitudes toward homosexuality isn’t so problematic as at the center, the show runners want a young, handsome man who has sexual appetites and flings in a manner that one wonders why make him a priest at all? Because of the private lives of the vicars, the sermons seem empty and it’s unfortunate that the show runners lacked the imagination to consider the possibility of two married men, chumming around and solving mysteries while dealing with the daily problems of being a young married couple or an older married couple.

“Grantchester” isn’t a show really invested in faith and that perhaps the biggest disappointment, even for someone who is a non-Christian.



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