In Episode 2, Sidney goes to a dinner party with snobs and we begin to depart rather significantly from the stories on which Grantchester is based.
The inspiration for this episode is “A Question of Trust” from the collection called Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie. It wasn’t a murder mystery, but it is now. Sidney didn’t have the beginnings of a drinking problem, but he does now. Sidney’s sister Jennifer wasn’t a victim of mean girl bullying, but she is now.
Dramatic tension is ramping up all around. Emotional conflict is trumping some of the sweetness and subtlety of both the first episode and the original stories. I’m not convinced the shift is necessary, but no one asked me.
Plus, we don’t see nearly enough of Dickens the puppy. That’s something we all can agree needs to be rectified in future episodes.
We open with Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton) engaging in very un-clergyman-like physical labor. He’s also wrestling with demons from his military service during World War II and some unsettling developments closer to home and heart.
His housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones), remains immune to Sidney’s charms—even when he’s shirtless. Then again, she dislikes the puppy too, so her judgment is highly suspect.
Cut to a dinner party, hosted by Sidney’s friend Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie), the wealthy, well-connected schoolmate of Sidney’s sister Jennifer (Fiona Button). There’s obvious attraction between Sidney and Amanda, but she’s marrying someone else. “Why?” asks Sidney. “Because you never asked,” she replies. Well, it’s not really that simple, and Amanda would make an unlikely vicar’s wife, but never mind.
The rest of the party are tiresome types including an up-and-coming politician, his hostile wife, a Cambridge Ph.D. whose every word seems calculated for shock value, Jennifer, and Jennifer’s boyfriend, the owner of a jazz club. Amanda’s fiancé might be the most tiresome of all, but he does present her with a stunner of an engagement ring that gets passed around for all to admire.
Barbs are exchanged. Feelings are hurt. A drink tray is overturned. The ring disappears. And a few hours later, one of the group is found floating in the water on someone’s estate.
Daisy Coulam’s teleplay diverges from the original to make more of the relationship between Sidney and Amanda. It also introduces (imposes?) social commentary—class distinction, race, homosexuality—that mainly serves to distract from the plot of the mystery. There’s a reason these subjects weren’t discussed in detail in Runcie’s story: they’re either incidental or they don’t arise at all. The original Grantchester Mysteries might feature a clergyman, but they’re light on moralizing and all the stronger for that.
As always, however, it might be unfair to compare the TV version with the original book. In most cases, the book will win. The episode stands on its own, even though it feels like we’ve seen a lot of it before in other series of this kind. Still, Sidney’s new curate Leonard (Al Weaver) might inject an element of eccentricity into future proceedings. (He’s no substitute for the puppy, though.) There’s also more to develop in the relationship between Sidney and Inspector Keating (Robson Green).
Let’s see what happens next week.
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.