The first words are “What the Dickens?” uttered by the curmudgeonly housekeeper Mrs. Maguire. Seconds later, Sidney Chambers (James Norton) strips down to swimming trunks, lest we’d forgotten he’s the Hunky Vicar. His BFF, Geordie Keating (Robson Green), also in trunks and less hunky only by comparison, gets all theosophical wondering why God chose to make Eve from a rib and not, say, a toe.
Then the two of them dive into a pond on a lovely summer’s day…and we dive into Series 2 of Grantchester on Masterpiece Mystery.
The idyllic picnic scene doesn’t last long, though. Before you can say Holy Communion, Sidney’s accused of breaking a few commandments with an underage parishioner whose father wants to tear him apart.
Apparently, being a vicar who inspires fervent devotion from all and sundry has its drawbacks.
Sidney’s accuser, a precocious 15-year-old called Abigail, has disappeared. So has her incriminating diary. Then, Abigail’s found dead. The bruises on her neck indicate she was murdered. The fact that she was discovered in the studio of the photographer who took her school photos—along with a few not-for-school photos—turns her death into a “case.”
“I let her down,” says Sidney, because everything’s always about Sidney.
If you missed Series 1, which aired in early 2015, you’ll be lost from the start. This episode assumes you remember the ins and outs of the previous series, such as the identity of the person who wrote the unopened letters in Sidney’s desk drawer. (They’re from the recently married and eternally tiresome Amanda Hopkins née Kendall.) Or, why we’re supposed to like the profoundly unlikeable Mrs. Maguire. (I can’t remember.)
Just know that Sidney is our hero. Never mind that he repeatedly shows himself to be the last person you’d ever consult for spiritual guidance. He does have the ability to perform miracles, solving cases with the help of what must be divine intervention. To wit, at about 38 minutes into this episode, Sidney makes a giant leap of deduction based on…what? Who knows?…that leads him to the killer, who has a particularly dumb and unsatisfying explanation for the crime.
I was optimistic about Grantchester when the first episode aired last year. Sadly, it hasn’t fulfilled its promise, and, in most cases, departs so drastically from its source material, you wonder why the creators even bothered to claim the series is based on the enjoyable, original, Christie-esque Grantchester mysteries by James Runcie. (Read the books. They’re better, I promise.)
Ostensibly, this episode is based on a story called “Love and Arson” from the collection Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night. What it retains from the original are a handful of character names, traits, and professions. That’s it.
The original story was about arson and potential insurance fraud; no murders. (That’s not a spoiler.) The TV episode manages to squeeze in everything except arson and insurance fraud. We have statutory rape, child abuse, illiteracy, and a couple of other societal issues that would be spoilers if I revealed them here. While these troubles certainly existed in the 1950s when Grantchester is set, the dramatic treatment of them strikes me as anachronistic. So does the characters’ behavior. Do you think 15-year-olds in the 1950s would talk to a clergyman as they do in this episode? I wonder…
Series 2 of Grantchester picks up right where it left off in the finale of Series 1 —expecting us to give it a lot of leeway when considering both its plausibility and its originality.
At least Dickens the puppy is as cute as ever.
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.