When your protagonist is a clergyman, you can expect he’ll be wading waist-deep into ethical dilemmas. This week’s episode of Grantchester on Masterpiece Mystery presents just such a case. Based on the story “First, Do No Harm” in Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie, it explores the age-old question of whether it’s ever appropriate to do the wrong thing for the right reason.
At its most benign, the question might apply to the little white lies we tell to protect someone’s feelings or to shield our own. But…
“If one does something wrong for the greater good, isn’t it a slippery slope? Where does one stop?” asks Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) the new curate at Grantchester.
“It’s a gray area, Leonard,” Sidney Chambers replies.
Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton) wrestles with gray areas every day of his life. As a clergyman, he’s bound to uphold the commandments. Yet, as a soldier during World War II, he killed enemy soldiers. Killing is a pretty big violation of life’s ground rules. How then, do you reconcile killing for a very good reason? And who decides what that “very good reason” might be?
Case in point: Daisy Livingstone (Jean Marsh), a nasty octogenarian who’s never been anything but abusive to her daughter Isabel (Lucy Black). Even her doctor admits that Daisy seems to be clinging to life largely out of spite, preventing the middle-aged Isabel from marrying and finally beginning a life of her own.
Unlikely as it might be, Isabel does have an intended. He is Arthur Evans (Kieran O’Brien), whom Sidney’s formidable housekeeper Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) insists is a “rotten apple.” Daisy Livingstone goes one step further, claiming “Arthur Evans is trying to do me in.”
When Daisy turns up dead, suspicion naturally points toward Arthur, but that would hardly flesh out an hour-long drama. Things are about to become complicated; maybe a little too complicated. Mrs. Livingstone might have died for a very good reason, but what was that reason and who’s accountable for her death?
Daisy Coulam’s teleplay adds quite a few wrinkles—and characters—to the original story, which make it more convoluted and less compelling. (Read the book, watch the series, and comment here with your thoughts!) The restraint in Runcie’s stories is often lost in the name of dramatic tension (something I find hard to reconcile), and the story line involving the main characters is making them less likeable with each episode.
Case in point: Amanda.
Based on the opening minutes of this episode, it’s not a spoiler to ask what Sidney could possibly see in Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie). Presenting him with a puppy in Episode 1 to soothe his broken heart (the heart she broke) was a questionable decision. Asking him to officiate at her wedding to Guy Hopkins? That’s just rotten. And the fact that it causes Sidney to drink himself into a stupor is even worse. We expect more from our hero than to fall for a superficial, spoiled girl who feels vaguely guilty about toying with his affections.
Then, there is Hildegard, the attractive widow from Episode 1. Even though she’s back living in Germany, Hildegard is still in the picture. (Quite literally, as Sidney demonstrates at the end of the episode.) She remains a bit of a blank at the moment. Would she make a better clergyman’s wife than Amanda? (Wouldn’t anyone?) Is love in the cards for Sidney? We’ll have to wait and see.
Leslie Gilbert Elmanis the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter@leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.