Picnics & Murders… Grantchester is Back!

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Handsome vicar Sidney Chambers and gruff detective Geordie Keating are back on the beat, solving mysteries in the idyllic town of Grantchester all while battling demons of their own.

We’ll sit down with Sidney and Geordie—James Norton and Robson Green—for an in-depth look at what’s in store for Grantchester’s second season.

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Jace Lacob (Jace): MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible. For a free trial, go to audible.com/masterpiece.

Jace: I’m Jace Lacob and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.

1950s crime-drama Grantchester returns this week, promising more country picnics, pints in the pub, bicycle rides…and murders.

At the heart of it all is an unlikely, crime-solving duo — jazz-loving, Anglican vicar Sidney Chambers and gruff, police detective Geordie Keating:

Sidney: People feel they can tell me things.
Geordie: You’re lucky. No one feels they can tell me anything.

Jace: Together, the two reveal the darkness beneath Grantchester’s idyllic English facade, all while battling demons of their own.

18 months have passed since we last saw Sidney and Geordie…

In the Season 1 finale, Geordie was shot.

Sidney: I’ve got you.
Geordie: I don’t want to die.
Sidney: You’re not going to die. You are not going to die.

Jace: Meanwhile, Sidney struggled to accept that the woman he loved was marrying someone else.

Sidney: Love is a minimum requirement, don’t you think? There has to be some in a marriage, or… what hope do you stand?
Amanda: What is it that you want, Sidney?

Jace: But in the end, they were in high spirits, as Sidney helped Geordie hobble off into the countryside.   

Geordie: And it is, it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king
Sidney: Truly awful!
Geordie: We’ll find you a girl who likes a bit of Becket, then.
Sidney: “Bechet”, Geordie. It’s “Bechet”.

Jace: What’s next for this unlikely pair? And will Sidney finally find love?

We sat down with Sidney and Geordie themselves — James Norton and Robson Green — to look ahead to Grantchester’s second season.

Jace: Welcome.

Robson Green (Robson): Hello. How are you?

James Norton (James): Thank you.

Jace: You two have the same hair cut. Is that true?

Robson: Mine’s not cut, it’s falling out. I’m 51, you know. I know I don’t look a day over 35 …

Jace: You don’t.

Robson: James had his cut for a part, because he does lots of work.

James:  I’m trying to style myself like my guru, Robson. I try and do some inlets.

Jace: So on the surface, a hard-drinking, jazz-loving vicar and a gruff, methodical detective-inspector seem like a chalk and cheese pairing. What is it that keeps these two together, and what do they have in common?

Robson: I agree, it is an incredibly unlikely pairing. Imagine pitching that idea in front of a panel of commissioners. You’ve got a charismatic member of the clergy, and this no-nonsense, plain-speaking detective, and together they solve crimes in the idyllic village that is Grantchester.

Jace: Murder capital of England.

James: In the words of James Runcie, Grantchester is this idyllic, quintessentially English place that is perfect for picnics and murder.

Robson: I think what keeps them together is this shorthand they have. There was a need for each other’s company.

James: I think so. I think it starts off from series one, when you first meet them, you realize that they can use one another to provide what’s missing in their life: Geordie can provide the excitement which Sidney is craving in the slightly monotonous and calm existence of the village priest. Similarly, I think Sidney’s entanglements with women, and things like that also gives Geordie a boost.

But then what starts to emerge in the first series, and which we then continue to explore in the second is this much deeper bond and union, and it’s just a very traditional, strong friendship.

Sidney: I like it because it’s full of intensity and feeling and… Jazz is a metaphor for life.
Geordie: Like a load of chaos and you’re glad when it stops.
Sidney: You know what you need? A very large drink.

Robson: They’re both men of … Were both men of strong faith, where I think Geordie lost his during World War II and what he went through. He was a prisoner of war in Burma– Well, that’s the brief, anyway. Therefore, when he came out of there, he really doesn’t think you can solve any problem or crime, for that matter, by confiding in an invisible friend, but when it comes to the crunch in any desperate situation, I think he does call to the Almighty, or second best, Sidney.

Geordie: Did you pray for me?
Sidney: Of course I did.
Geordie: Praying for an old heathen?
Sidney: It worked, didn’t it?

Robson: He has great respect for what Sidney stands for and everything he is, and I think the whole community stands around the moral compass that is Sidney. If Sidney’s in any kind of capitulation or fall, I think the village and its occupants fall with him.

Jace: Do you think the central conflict within the series, perhaps then is sort of that between the law of man and the law of God?

James: Yeah. I think that’s a really good way of putting it. I think Sidney spends a lot of time wrangling with these big existential, moral questions, and I think Sidney’s this man of faith. He has this code of being a vicar, and he’s committed his life to that, but at the same time he’s a normal young guy, and the law of man dictates that he is attracted to these women, and often he breaks confidences and he makes big errors and hurts people along the way

Sidney: Have you ever been unfaithful?
Geordie: Hm? No. And you haven’t, either.
Sidney: It’s not me, Geordie. It’s not what I do.
Geordie: Don’t dwell on it.
Sidney: Don’t dwell on it? Mm-hm

James: They both are setting out to lead the right life, the life to which will lead them to happiness and bring the people around them happiness and safety, and it’s the question of how to do that. As you say, is it through the church, is it through your instinctive moral compass I think.

Jace: Where do we find the two of them as we pick up again in season two?

Robson: I think it knows what it is now, Grantchester, and when that happens you can start taking risks with the relationships.

I think one of the things in TV you have to have in any relationship is likability, and these two are very likable, and you care enough for them. That’s great for our producer, I think. If you care enough about a relationship, okay, what’s the next thing we’re going to do? We’re going to jeopardize it. How are we going to jeopardize it? We’ve got this amazing overriding arc in series two, a very powerful overriding arc: They’re fractured. Are we going to repair it, are they going to get back together? That’s the main strand in series two.

Jace: Now most shows would have had Amanda, now that she’s married, out of the picture entirely, but season two, Grantchester keeps her in play even as Sidney finds romance elsewhere. What’s in the cards for Sidney and Amanda, and how does their dynamic continue to play out this year?

James: It continues the star-crossed lover … She’s very much in the picture. I’m not sure how much I should give away. She’s there. The damage is there, they’re both hurting, and of course who does she turn to in times of need? Well it’s Sidney.

Jace: Sidney.

James: Similarly, Sidney has moments of … Incredibly vulnerable, both in his romantic life and also his relationship with Geordie and things, and so who does he turn to? Well, it’s Amanda. They are there in each other’s lives. What happens at the end, I’ll let you find out.

Jace: We’ll have to find out. For Robson, obviously Geordie was massively affected by the shooting in season one. Do we continue to see the damage play out?

Robson: Yeah. I guess it reminds him of traumatic events that he had during his time in prisoner-of-war camp. But there is a lot of darkness and a lot of things uncomfortable, but the light and shade happens with this: Geordie living vicariously through Sidney.

Geordie kind of envies him, and that life, and I think vice-versa with the Sidney character. I may be wrong, and James might correct me, but I think he likes Geordie’s security in relationships, but he has a penchant for married women.

James: Woah, woah. Can I just say — sorry, Geordie … Robson. We find it somewhat difficult– We interchange between the two.

Sidney doesn’t have a penchant for married women.

Robson: I’m sorry, you’ve asked me the question and you’ve just rudely interrupted me on my flow, I have to say, which is quite articulate and windswept and interesting, and yeah there’s three…three married women you’ve been with.

James: No, and you’re giving stuff away which we shouldn’t give away, but no that’s–

Robson: I love it. You’re telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. This is the yin and the yang, you see. This is why people love us. We argue.

And that’s another thing about the relationship which I’m very fond of: The conflict with Sidney and Geordie comes out of a genuine care and need and love for one another, and that’s a lovely thing to play, a lovely thing to play, and it’s endearing and unusual.

James: So fun.

There’s a great affection and friendship, but there’s also this kind of exasperated rolling the eyes, going, “Oh my word.” You could easily just extract the names “James” and “Robson” and put in “Sidney” and “Geordie”, and they’d– It’s great. We’ve had a lot of fun playing the relationship.

Robson: That’s it in a nutshell, because it, because of the way the shorthand works within the relationship. Be they lawyers, be they doctors, be they firemen, I don’t know, you’d still care in the way they operate with one another and interact with one another, and it’s quite rare to see, I have to say.

Jace: There’s a care. There’s also, I think, a very sympathetic streak to Geordie, and I think that he’s humanized a lot by his relationship with Cathy. How do we see his relationship with his wife change this season?

Robson: It changes insomuch that he doesn’t talk enough about Burma. He attempts it with Sidney, and he doesn’t talk enough … I think most men didn’t in the 50s, and I think still don’t today, about what he’s seen and what he’s gone through. The events are so traumatic, but if you harbor that stuff, if you bottle it up, it will manifest itself in other ways.

The brief I got from Daisy Coulam, the wonderful writer, Daisy Coulam, that adapted most of the novels, was, you know, “He’s not sleeping. He’s having flashbacks,” so when they’re at a crime scene and a camera flash goes off, he’s startled by it because he’s not just admitting that the pain and trauma that he’s gone through, you know.

Jace: James, you’re very knowledgeable about fashion, particularly vintage fashion. I heard that you used to curate the men’s section at Charity Wakefield’s store, Charlie Foxtrot Vintage in London.

James: Yeah, good knowledge.

Jace: Are you ever frustrated that everyone around you is in 1950s style and you’re often wearing a vicar’s collar?

James: I am, you know. That’s a really good question, because you have slightly hit a nail on the head. I do love my clothes. Sadly, Charity’s shop, Charlie Foxtrot, closed last week, so that’s sad, and I’ve now … What’s even sadder is I’ve got huge bags of vintage clothing and nowhere to put them, so if anyone needs a blazer, it’s cool.

Particularly last series, there was a couple of– Episode one, actually, has a lot of 16 to 18-year-olds in it, and they’re all looking fantastic in their 1950s garbs and I do look, in comparison, very drab in my black suit.

I get two suits, both exactly the same, just in case I get one muddy, and that’s … Occasionally, they let me put on a shirt and some nice high-waisted cords, but generally I’m stuck in my dog collar. But actually–

It’s kind of comfortable, and it does … We did fight, at the beginning, in the first series, about whether we can afford to take him out of the dog collar, and actually we realized that we just can’t; we have to embrace it. He would have worn this suit all the time. So once that decision was made, it actually works. It’s such an important part of him. It doesn’t define him by any means, but when people– There’s a crime scene, or there’s a nursing home, and a vicar walks in with that very iconic uniform, people react, particularly in those days, in a certain way.

So although I did rail at the beginning, and I asked for my really…sort of 1950s sports bomber jacket, I wasn’t allowed it, sadly.

Jace: You studied Buddhism and Hinduism as part of your coursework at Cambridge. Does that give you some insight into religious life?

James: Yes. I definitely think that my degree, and also my schooling– I went to a very religious Benedictine school, and it was attached to a monastery in the north of England, and so the world of the church — even though I’m not really practicing anymore– it was a very familiar world, and I think for some people particularly, and sort of secular UK at the moment, some people just haven’t really– For them, it’s very archaic and antiquated to go to church, and they find it a bit awkward, and almost sometimes a bit taboo.

If you say “I’m a Christian, I’m a born-again Christian,” a lot of people, particularly in my circles in London, would raise their eyebrows and go, “Wow.” I think it was a great benefit for me, having been very immersed in the church from an early age. It’s a familiar world, it’s not a taboo, or daunting, and so I think that has helped.

Jace: Do you ever feel any sense of cognitive whiplash going from playing Sidney Chambers to Tommy Lee Royce?

I will admit, when I first saw the first episode of Grantchester I had just seen Happy Valley, and I thought, “How is this psychotic guy going to play this very likable priest?” But you do both so fantastically.

James: Thank you. There was a moment when the two jobs were almost filmed back to back, and I remember saying many times, “I was filming a psychopath by day, and then researching the vicar by night,” and that was a very strange month and a half, because they are so polar opposite.

In a way, it was kind of wonderful to extract myself from the dark, psychotic head of Tommy Lee Royce and into the light and essentially optimistic head of Sidney, because they both, they are totally opposite in the way they view the world: Tommy sees the world as inherently hostile, as a psychopath would, and Sidney, although he has his moments of depression, he generally sees the best in people, and sees the world as an inherently benign place.

To play these two extremes was wonderful. As far as whiplash, I don’t know. Maybe … Did Sidney have sort of psychotic moments in the first series? I’m not sure. Maybe there were moments when I suddenly let a little bit of Tommy out, and vice-versa. Maybe Tommy has some moments of divine understanding.

Jace: I’m slightly frightened just sitting right here, I’ll tell you that much.

Jace: There’s a sense that, with a warrant card, a copper can sort of go anywhere, but there are places that a priest can go that a cop cannot. While that might have been the initial appeal of this partnership with Sidney, what do you think Geordie now feels about their relationship?

Robson: Firstly, thank goodness you didn’t ask me about studying at Cambridge, because I didn’t study Hinduism at all.

Jace: Did you study Hinduism at University of Cambridge?

Robson: No, I studied engineering drawing and design technology, and became a naval architect, but there you go.

Isn’t that great that James can go into an audition, “So what you can bring to this charismatic part?” I’ll have to remember the clergyman who goes, “I got a first in theology from Cambridge.” Swine. Anyway, no…

It’s great, in terms of narrative, in terms of the writing. What a great device to have, as a detective. People confess their darkest feelings, their sins, so to speak, to this member of the clergy who breaches confidentiality and tells me everything.

Annie: I’ll only talk to him.
Sidney: Give me a minute?
Geordie: See they fall at your bloody feet.

Robson: That’s a real appeal, to get the job done, but it’s just the shorthand, it’s the unspoken stuff, and the writing is very economic, as well. I keep saying it, but I didn’t change a word of the writing, and that’s the appeal. As James said, all we do as actors is help to tell the story, and this is a story so well-written, so well-structured, and everybody’s top-drawer, and that’s a joy to be part of.

I think that helps you as an actor. It relaxes you a bit. You’ve got this wonderful safety net of a script–

James: I also … What’s lovely, as an actor, is to play the unspoken. Obviously, it’s much, much more interesting to play the subtext, and what’s not said. And that’s why a lot of period drama is so exciting to play, because these periods, the 50s, as a man, you were able to be…emote and be emotional, but generally everything is penned in. For both Sidney and Geordie, both coming back from the war, both having these shortcomings in their life, and they find, suddenly, that there is someone who understands the other person in each other, but they don’t really talk about it.

As Robson says, there’s all this shorthand, and there’s these moments where we sort of almost allude to why we’re friends and what we gain from each other, but we never really say it explicitly, and that’s so exciting to play because there’s such an understanding between us, and both — as we say — both on and off the camera.

Jace: You mentioned eye-rolling before, that you … What is one thing that the other does that makes you roll your eyes at each other?

Robson: Well just going outside the show, we were in the Gardens yesterday, and I went … There was a big cactus area, massive cactus plants, and it said, “Do not enter”. “Do not enter,” to Robson Green, is red rag to a bull. So I just went, “I’ll stand there. Take a picture of me. Don’t tell anyone James, just take a picture of me.”

James: At which point the eye-rolling starts.

Robson: Then the eye-rolling starts, and then the cactus plant went in the back of my leg, to which then he goes, “Seriously, has it gone in the back of your leg?” I went, “Yeah, it has.” He went, “They’re poisonous.” I went, “What?” He went, “They’re poisonous. I saw a sign back there. They’re really, really poisonous.” I’m going, “Are you…” For like four seconds, he does that, he lies to me.

James: No, I didn’t lie to you. I have a … I think I like the odd prank at Robson’s expense. It’s quite fun. It’s very fun, basically.

Jace: Sort of like brothers.

Robson: It is like brothers, and I think when it … I think James has hit it on the head: it’s fun, and we’re kind of secretly … As an actor, certainly me, I get a lot of cabin fever in a long-running series, and when you get to “Series 21 of Grantchester,” “Think we can do it again, James?” No, that’s not a good way to fly, but when it … What would attract you to one more series? James. It would be. That’s it.

Jace: Aw.

James: And for me, it’s Dickens, obviously.

James: The dog, the lab dog.

Robson: Well. “Robson Rolls his eyes.”

Jace: Grantchester premieres on MASTERPIECE on Sunday, March 27th at 9 pm ET.

And join us here on MASTERPIECE Studio every-other week for in-depth interviews with the Grantchester cast and crew.

Jace: MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob, and produced by Nathan Tobey. Kathy Tu is our editor. Rachel Aronoff is our production coordinator. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.

You can find this podcast at pbs.org/masterpiece, on Stitcher, and on iTunes.

MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible.

Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking River Cruises, Audible, and The MASTERPIECE Trust.

James Norton: …and everything’s good.
Kathy: Upstairs, when they turn the pipe on for water…
Robson Green: That’s excellent.
James Norton: That’s not us, by the way. I thought it would have been Star Wars, and I thought it was Chewbacca.



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