Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Grantchester - ITV review

It took me twenty-four hours to get the chance to watch ITV's new period (1950s) detective show Grantchester, based on the books by James Runcie, son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. This was because I've been away on a trip to Oxford and the Cotswolds - and when I watched the show it reminded me, just as the trip did, of the loveliness of many parts of England. I visited Hidcote, a National Trust gem that is home to one of the country's finest gardens (amazing to see such a profusion of colour among the flowers, not just the autumn leaves, at this time of the year), and the market town of Chipping Campden, complete with a wonderful second hand bookshop, as well as the Congregation Hall in Oxford, a slice of history dating back to the fourteenth century and now converted to a vibrant cafe crammed with students.

Grantchester is set around Cambridge, not Oxford, but it blends many of the ingredients to be found in Endeavour and other popular detective shows - Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie's Marple and Father Brown spring to mind. It's genteel, rather than gritty, and though I'm not keen on the term 'cosy' as applied to crime fiction, it's hard to deny that this was a cosy show with a rural vicar as amateur sleuth, the sort of programme that you expect to find on a Sunday evening. Most of the reviews I've seen have been very positive, and I wonder if that reflects the same sort of interest in traditional detective fiction (perhaps coupled with a nostalgic yearning for the past) that has caused the British Library Crime Classics to become so successful.

It's hard to create a truly baffling TV whodunit that is over and done with in rather less than an hour, once commercial breaks are accounted for, but the story - about the supposed suicide of a rascally solicitor - was competently done. However, I suspect that Grantchester is less likely to succeed because of its story-lines than through the casting of James Norton as the vicar, Sidney Chambers. When last seen on TV, Norton was the convincingly psychopathic Tommy in Happy Valley; this role could scarcely be more different, and Norton's ability to excel in both roles demonstrates what a fine actor he is. The cast also includes Robson Green as Sidney's police inspector pal Geordie. They make an odd couple among sleuths, but I suspect that Grantchester will enjoy a lot of success.

Much as I love traditional detective fiction, I'm also keen on crime stories with a harder edge. Similarly, much as I like the chocolate-box prettiness of the Cotswolds, I also find less well-heeled places like Liverpool entrancing. For me, Happy Valley was a long way ahead of Grantchester as a TV drama because of its much greater originality. But that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy Grantchester.  On the contrary, much of the enduring appeal of crime fiction is due to the fact that the genre is exceptionally diverse, and both shows are well-crafted, presenting a picture of different facets of English life at different times and in different parts of the country. It's perfectly possible to enjoy both noir and nostalgia..



 

8 comments:

Nan said...

I did love it, and agree with every word you wrote. There's an old song by The Lovin' Spoonful called Nashville Cats, which is a rave about all the guitar players in Nashville (lyrics here: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/l/lovin+spoonful/nashville+cats_20276435.html).

And every time I watch a British movie or television program, I think of that song because Nashville's guitar players are like Britain's actors. I am wowed over and over again by the excellence of every one I see. And I love the way older actors keep on working, and the young ones coming up are equal to their elders. There is nothing like them in the world.

June Francis said...

There was more than one reason than Grantchester being the kind of detective story I would enjoy that I chose to watch it instead of my usual choice of New Tricks on a Monday evening. That was the writer being the son of Rev Robert Runcie, who not only went to my son Iain's old school but his Oxford college as well. I wanted to see how the main character reflected a real his father, who had been a real man of the cloth. I enjoyed the first episode, although our sleuth seemed to do a lot of cycling around with his seat off the saddle! Interested to see how the series pans out.
Also interested in your visit to the Cotswolds - John and I went to both places you visited the other year. Lovely. Thinking of the Cotswolds and detectives. Have you read Ann Grainger?

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Nan. I'll check out that Spoonful song - I remember Daydream!

Martin Edwards said...

Lovely to hear from you, June. Yes, I have read some of Ann's books and meet up with her and her husband a few times a year. Good writer.

June Francis said...

I met Ann, myself, years ago when we were with the same agent, Judith Murdoch. We both wrote historicals for M&B at one time. I've also read a couple of Ann's Lizzie Martin books set in Victorian times which I enjoyed.
Shall we be seeing anymore Liverpool books from you?

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, June, I'm not sure I knew Ann had written historicals. I'd very much like to write more about Liverpool, preferably in the Devlin series, but it all depends on what the publishers want. I'm encouraged by people's continuing interest in Devlin, as my post today mentions.

Andre ferrari said...

Grantchester is really growing on me. And Tessa Peake-Jones nearly steals the show for me as the dour housekeeper Mrs Maguire. She is a joy to watch. Those milk curdling scowls! I am old enough to remember that Mrs Maguire types were not uncommon in the 1950's! All in all, this series is shaping up nicely, with various darker undercurrents being established as a counterpoint to the picturesque settings.

Martin Edwards said...

Nice to hear from you, Andre, and I agree. Last night's was a good episode,with an interesting motive for murder.