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Television review

A sleuth in ‘Grantchester’

James Norton plays the Rev. Sidney Chambers.PDes Willie/Lovely Day Productions & ITV for MASTERPIECe
Robson Green is Inspector Geordie Keating.

People in PBS’s “Grantchester” keep trying to serve the Rev. Sidney Chambers a glass of sherry. As a vicar in 1954 in an idyllic English village, he would of course want to sip on something traditional and genteel. But Chambers is strictly a whiskey drinker, and a passionate one at that. He is a great lover of jazz who has modern ideas, as well as a World War II veteran with painful memories lurking in his rather pretty blond head. No sherry fellow, he.

Chambers is the interesting crime-solver at the center of this mild, diverting new six-part “Masterpiece Mystery” series, a guy whose boyish face — he looks a tad like Prince Harry — and whose job tending to his flock belie the dark corners of his soul.


Played by James Norton, he is a complicated man, and an affable and compassionate one, too, who keeps stumbling onto murder cases. Like Chambers himself, the rural Grantchester is more troubled than meets the eye. The locals can’t help but confide in him, and relevant information about crimes seems to fall into his lap.

Chambers also forms an amusing and effective sleuthing partnership with a local detective named Geordie Keating, who is played by Robson Green. They form a great team of opposites, after a rocky start in the premiere, which is Sunday night at 10 after “Downton Abbey.” Chambers finds spiritual import and meaning in developing events, including the illness of Geordie’s son, while the scrappy Geordie isn’t much for religion. He’s a fan of facts.

Because he is an Anglican, Chambers can marry. But his romantic life is twisted up, adding another burden onto his already weighted shoulders. He is in love with his university friend, an heiress named Amanda (Morven Christie), and she appears to be in love with him, too. But her father has arranged for her to marry a wealthier, more socially acceptable man and she doesn’t feel able to defy him. Watching Chambers and Amanda flirt, you feel the rightness of their connection, and so the tragedy of their inability to be together.


Adapted from a series of novels by James Runcie, “Grantchester” makes for very easy viewing, in the manner of so many of the “Masterpiece” mysteries. The murder plots are extremely light and undemanding, without being insulting. The period setting is lovely and nostalgic, with the tranquil Grantchester so easy on the eyes as Chambers bicycles through it. And as Chambers, Norton keeps just the right balance between being a sweet but haunted man.

If you like your murder dramas dark, twisty, and violent, you have no business here. In “Grantchester,” the grass is always green.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at