The quiet charm of Leonard Finch and Daniel Marlowe’s blossoming romance has been an unexpected highlight of the last few seasons of Grantchester. Even actor Ollie Dimsdale, who brings Daniel to life, is surprised by the strength of his character’s long-running narrative arc. He explores the past — and future — here.
Jace Lacob: I’m Jace Lacob, and you’re listening to MASTERPIECE Studio.
When Daniel Marlowe first appeared on the scene in the second season of Grantchester, it wasn’t as a romantic prospect. He was, in fact, a suspected murderer.
Daniel I take it a bribe won’t be enough this time.
Geordie Shut up, you bastard. I’m arresting you on suspicon of murder.
Geordie You’re not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so. But what you say may be put into writing and given in evidence.
Jace Thankfully for Daniel — and for viewers — he wasn’t the criminal in question, and the quietly charming photographer eased his way into a tentative romance with the deeply closeted Leonard Finch.
Daniel The man I fell in love with isn’t spiteful. He’s sweet, and kind and understanding…
Leonard Who’s he? He sounds like a lovely chap.
Daniel Be kind, Leonard.
Jace Now, several years later, Daniel and Leonard remain an item, with all the complicated limitations and secret meetings required of a homosexual couple in 1950s middle England. But romance continues — albeit slowly.
Daniel Thank you. Not so much for the music. Or the macaron —
Leonard I don’t want you to go.
Daniel You gave your word.
Leonard I saw a man take his last breaths today. I doubt he spent his final moments worrying what others thought of him. What Mrs C doesn’t know won’t hurt her. And frankly — isn’t really any of her damn business.
Jace When actor Oliver Dimsdale went out for the role of Daniel, he could never have guessed his timid photographer character would still be on the scene here in the fifth series. Dimsdale joins us to discuss Daniel, Leonard, and his own relationship with the unexpected special guest star still on the Grantchester horizon.
Jace And this week we are joined by Grantchester star Oliver Dimsdale. Welcome.
Ollie Thank you very much. Hello. Hello.
Jace When Daniel Marlowe was first introduced in season two of Grantchester, he seemed to be a bit shady. A seedy, pornographic photographer caught up in the murder investigation of a pregnant, underage girl. What did you make of Daniel as a character initially, particularly in that first episode?
Ollie I thought he was a very intriguing character, someone who’s clearly lost. I wasn’t given many clues other than a very short biog, which points to the fact that he had been married. And he was married to a woman. I don’t think he had children. But the fact that he was gay meant meant that he was no longer able, able to live this lie. And so he had decided to break up with his wife or possibly vice versa. Maybe it was a joint decision. And we find him at the start of series two as a pretty lonely individual who has perhaps ostracized himself from from his former friends and friends of the family and in indeed members of his family, perhaps. But he’s still working as a photographer. He still needs to make ends meet. And he becomes embroiled, if I recall, in a seedy story where he’s taking pictures of a girl who he learns after the event to be underage. Possibly he knows that she’s maybe that she is under age. But I guess what he thinks he needs the money. And so in many ways, he’s very, very, very much guilty of of of doing the wrong thing. He should not be taking photographs of her. But I feel, I feel like he more than makes up for it in his actions in being as contrite and apologetic as he possibly can be.
Jace I mean, what was his arc going to be in that first season, as you understood it then? Did you see this kind of going long term?
Ollie I seem to remember a line in a casting email that said that he would possibly have a future inside the show, but I’m not, I’m not sure how far Diederick Santer, the exec and Daisy Coulam, the writer, were thinking. And indeed, Emma. Emma Kingsman Lloyd our producer, were thinking at that stage. I just had a character in front of me who was, whose life was spinning out of control and who was later found out to, to be struggling with issues surrounding his sexuality.
Jace That initial case, the Abigail Redmann murder, outed Daniel.
Sidney Marlowe’s bought his way out of an arrest before.
Geordie For what?
Phil He’s divorced I believe, left his wife some years back.
Geordie No sign of a lady friend?
Sidney Not a lady friend.
Geordie He’s a pansy. Once you look, they’re everywhere. Crawling out of the bloody woodwork.
Jace This is the 1950s in a small English village. What sort of danger is there to Daniel’s reputation? And in fact, his safety that his sexuality is out there?
Ollie I would have imagined that to have been a gay man in 1950s, be it in the closet, as it were, or being as openly gay as he could have possibly been would have been incredibly dangerous. It was indeed against the law. So it would have been an incredibly uncomfortable existence for him. And as we see as the series go through as well, you know, these, Daniel and indeed Leonard as well are not able to fully be the people who they would like to be and live a life somewhat with their true selves inside the shadows. And it’s some it does remain a pretty troubling, troubling part of history.
Jace One of the biggest surprises of the last few seasons has been the dynamic between Leonard and Daniel. Why do you think that viewers have been so invested in their relationship?
Ollie I think they’ve been invested in the relationship because it’s something that is, as we mentioned before, something that would have been incredibly dangerous for the two of them to get together, you know, firstly Leonard is a part of the clergy, not to mention revealing their true selves would indeed have been against the law. And therefore, they have to take it incredibly slowly. And indeed, we see Daniel with a another boyfriend, and perhaps he could have a little bit of a freer relationship with someone else other other than Leonard. But in Leonard, he probably sees ultimately someone of somewhat of a kindred spirit. And someone who he just cannot shake the feeling of being utterly entranced by and utterly in love with him. And he just can’t help himself. But I love the way that it’s not…their story is not rushed. It comes to you little by little, and that left me and leaves the viewers wanting more.
Jace One of those moments happens to be the engagement photography session in season three where Daniel has to photograph Leonard and his fiancee, Hillary. It’s really a painful scene to watch. At first, it’s really awkward. And then the mounting tension between Daniel and Leonard is palpable to everyone, it seems, except for Hillary.
Daniel Perhaps if you put your arm around her?
Leonard Like this?
Hillary Um, but round my waist, perhaps.
Daniel Now look at each other. That’s it. Don’t move.
Jace What do you recall of shooting that scene?
Ollie I can recall the fact that we Al Weaver that plays Leonard and myself. Each each, each take. We did. We kept on on feeling as if we were doing a scene suddenly with other people inside the room and other people around. It wasn’t just the two of us. And there was something very, very, very strange about this masquerade we had to play when all all we would have wanted to do was just to sit and talk. And James Norton, of course, back at that stage was playing the vicar, Sidney knows about this and is is a part of the story. But Hillary was none the wiser. And and there was something about the sheer depths of the pain of that moment of realizing that society was never going to let them even get remotely close to where they wanted to be with with one another.
Jace Daniel, compared to Leonard, seems anyway more self-assured and confident about his own sexuality. The kiss with Leonard at the end of season three sort of inches, Leonard, closer toward that outcome as well. What did you make of that scene and how it advanced their storyline?
Ollie That’s a pivotal moment. And I seem to remember the script and also the direction as well. It had pointed to a rather wonderful state where where Daniel and Leonard are there, they’re together and whereby Leonard has sort of decided that it’s time to take the barriers down. It’s time to allow you to kiss me or vice versa. And therein lies the wonderful thing about their relationship inside Grantchester is it is that at times it feels like one is trying to orchestrate the other, but that both of them are so, so deeply in love and deeply respectful of each other. They try not to force the issue too much. But here was the and in my memory of actually actually filming that with Al, was us us being acutely aware of of of the significance of this moment and going from going through and shooting it, being completely inside the moment and it being incredibly tender, to the point sy which cut is called, and then you’re looking at each other and you’re smiling and laughing and you’re chatting away. But basically we were very, very, very we were both very careful and very respectful and very mindful of the significance of this moment in the overall narrative.
Jace At the start of season five, we pick up with Daniel and Leonard as they returned to Grantchester from a holiday in Marrakech. What does the trip signify to them both in terms of their relationship and of their physical connection?
Ollie It’s probably been an extraordinary holiday. And as Al has mentioned before, maybe even with you, there must have been something incredibly significant about doing something as simple as holding hands in the street and having the freedom that would have been denied to Leonard and indeed denied to most men or women together in Britain, if you are outside of the culture. So it’s generally perceived that it’s fine for a man and a man or a woman and a woman walking down the road hand-in-hand if that’s been removed from you. It must have been an extraordinarily freeing sense of of wonder really, of falling in love. And they had that for however many weeks they were away. And then of course, the first time we see them is, is when they are coming back from the holiday. And then suddenly they have to shut down all sorts of these newfound freedoms and take their bags and opposite directions inside this Grantchester bubble, Which still is inextricably associated with all of the kind of district draconian laws that they would like to break, to breakthrough.
Jace I mean, it is as though this sort of ax falls on their intimacy the second they returned to that sleepy English village. Daniel says, I think we’re allowed a stiff handshake to Leonard before they go their separate ways. I mean, what is Daniel’s reaction to Leonard being so afraid of even being seen shaking his hand in the street?
Ollie His reaction to Leonard is it is one of of inevitability. I’m not sure he’s so shocked, but but nonetheless, he is probably rather despondent and and sees an inevitability to both of them going their own ways. But I feel that I think he’s probably been thinking on the whole journey back from Marrakesh of ways in which he might be able to coax Leonard either either to come with him to a different part of the world, to go with him to a different part of the country, even. Maybe even, dare I say it, to be able to leave the clergy in order to be able to be with Daniel more. But I think he’s already thinking in in terms of in terms of trying to emancipate Leonard and emancipate himself from this, the strict, rigid laws that govern the society and indeed, Grantchester.
Jace Bognar, at least.
Ollie Bognar, yes.
Jace Do you think it’s passersby that Leonard fears, or the watchful eye of Mrs. C?
Ollie I think it’s probably a combination of preservation of his job, aAnd and just the fact that you are you know, whenever you go back to a place you were born and brought up around or a place that you work around, you suddenly put on a different mask, don’t you? So he he’s if if he’s been perceived up and up and up until that point in that particular light, he doesn’t want the mask to crack at all, so he is, he’s already prepared to go back into society, and be the Leonard, the God-fearing Leonard. And I think a little bit is to do with his, I think he’s still coming to terms with his, the voice of God inside his own mind and inside his life as well. Whether or not he is is he’s being looked down upon him being judged and being judged by others, being judged by Mrs C, his mother figure in many ways. And so it’s a kind of a voice of his calling, a voice of God, but it’s very much the kind of the rigid structure of society that surrounds him that he’s particularly terrified of.
Jace Before this next question, let’s take a quick break to hear a word from our sponsors…
Jace In this week’s episode, Daniel brings Leonard roses and they settle in to watch the Eurovision Competition. And I love the macarons scene, which manages to be really sweet and sensual. How do you read the scene, given that macarons, while fairly commonplace today, must have been an extravagance in the 1950s?
Ollie I see that Daniel isn’t isn’t quite as allured by the attraction of the Eurovision Song Contest as Leonard is. If a number of years later, Leonard would probably be the one to maybe stand up first and then, at a karaoke competition and then sing out his best number. And Daniel is also quite intrigued by the kind of the wonderfully geeky idiosyncrasies of Leonard as well, and bringing macarons and and and trying to tie it all in, is as strange for Daniel as is as it’s something as is a quality that he finds very sweet as well. And I, I particularly liked doing that, that, that scene with Al, actually. Yeah, we had fun doing that.
Jace Do you feel that the scene helps to demystify their relationship in a way painting them not as star-crossed, but rather as sort of domestic?
Ollie Yeah, funny you should say that! That’s a very that’s a very, a very astute observation. It’s if if one is. If one is doing the same or is watching a television program, by definition, you know, you are doing something that is fundamentally domestic. And yet and yet you’re still having a relationship, a relationship over it.
Jace Daniel tries to make good on his promise to stay away from the vicarage, but it’s Leonard who asked him to stay. “What Mrs. C doesn’t know can’t hurt her,” he says. “And frankly, it’s really not any of her damn business.” What does Daniel make of this rather more naughty side to Leonard than we’ve seen previously?
Ollie I think Daniel is surprised, but he he is very, very excited at the possibility. Although at the same time, he is, or he has been affected by Leonard’s terror of being caught. At this stage, he is very much aware of the fact that Mrs. C is very much a God-fearing, law abiding citizen who would really go bananas if she were to find out that Leonard was with a boyfriend inside the house, you know, she hasn’t actually realized this yet, but. And so it plays out, it plays out very much in a in a in a sort of in a kind of a moment of high comedy. I’m not going to say too much about it, but…
Jace I mean it is it’s like a comedy of errors. I mean I love the fact that it is unexpected in this kind of period, murder mystery drama to suddenly turn into sort of French farce.
Mrs. C Who put roses in my custard jug?
Leonard She’s early. Say they’re yours.
Leonard Say they’re yours!
Will They’re mine! They’re mine.
Mrs. C What are?
Will The roses in the custard jug.
Mrs. C Won’t you think of the custard, Will…And put some clothes on! Wandering round in your all-together.
Will I just – I need you to…um…
Mrs. C What?
Will It’s the television.
Mrs. C I know it’s the television.
Will Can you hear that?
Mrs. C What? It’s probably all those Europeans…Is that bits of pastry on the table? Who’s brought pastry into the vicarage?
Leonard Morning, Mrs C.
Mrs. C Up, dressed, not desecrating my tableware. At least I can rely on one of you.
Jace Do you see that as sort of a bit of a teenagers in love feeling to the sequence? It’s French farce, but it also sort of is reminiscent of these kind of two teenagers that are sort of sneaking around together.
Ollie In many ways, Leonard has perhaps been denied his own teenage years. And you’re right, this is this is this is a pair of teenagers creeping around in them. And I do think despite the comedy as well, I think there is a sense of of them making sure that you know that, making sure that Mrs. C does not find out about this. If she were to actually see them creeping around, then maybe they would have had a good go trying to cover it up. But yeah, yeah I would imagine he would be in serious trouble, both of them would be in serious trouble.
Jace After the doom and gloom of their romance thus far, there is a certain kind of relief almost in seeing these two happy and at ease with each other and their relationship, particularly after the tense handshake seen in the previous episode. Are we moving this season to a sense of calm for these two?
Ollie I think so. I think. I think with all. All things we carry with us in our lives. There is a sense of of of of one or two big secrets that we do carry with us throughout our lives. And them. And and this is something that has to be at least to themselves. It has to be outed. They need to to try to reveal their true selves to each other. And Leonard goes on a magnificent journey, as I was alluding to earlier, in the whole of the arc of the fifth series. Again, I’m not going to say too much about that, but it’s it’s one that is very much a combination of, I’d say words like forgiveness, and acceptance, which I both encourage as well, because in order to be able to admit something to yourself and admit somebody to your nearest and dearest, that you have there has been kept as a long held secret identity inside your heart. It takes a lot of courage to come out and say exactly what you feel and and more often than not, you risk. A lot. You risk losing friends, you could risk losing losing family as well. And this is Leonard’s journey. And them and. And the result of Leonard’s journey means that possibly Daniel will be able to live with someone who is, who has lightened his burden and therefore they can be a little bit more their true selves.
Jace Very well put. Is there is there a sense that they embody second chances for each other after a sort of disastrous decisions in the marital department?
Ollie Again, I hadn’t actually thought of it like that in in, um. I thought I think it does feel like a rather a wonderful, natural relationship that is on and off and on again. But there was never a feeling that they wouldn’t always try to give it a go. There was an unspoken, unspoken desire, despite the kind of the breakups and the want to see each other again and of a continuation of all of giving something a go that was far too good let go of.
Jace Everyone on Grantchester speaks of the show as being their, quote, happy place. Has the experience working on Grantchester felt the same for you?
Ollie Whenever I get, I go into Grantchester it does feel like a family. And I, I, I know that Robson and and James and now Tom and and and Al and Tessa and everyone are really enamored of each other and enamored of the project. And quite a lot of that comes from the top, really, you know, when you have excecs and writers and producers that are all singing from the same hymn sheet then and and leads as well that are turning up on the set and literally leading. And leading the way and setting a good example, you cannot not but have a set that is is upbeat and happy, and then everyone usually sort of follows along as well. Like, I’ve I filmed things that have been wonderful on paper, on script. But if if one person is a little bit moody, particularly if a lead is moody or an exec, or an director, then it just it filters through and it seeps through the whole of the project and and makes it not an unhappy place to film, but not a particularly nice environment to film. And when you have Robson and Tom, the two that are there the whole time and Tessa, as well as being relentlessly upbeat, cheery and jokey and knowing everyone’s everyone’s name, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a two, three day work experience, they all go out of their way to learn their name, to say hello. How are you? Thank you very much. And to look people in the eye. And that appears to be the secret as to why people go on about Grantchester being such a big family, is because people are just nice and polite and professional. And it’s a pleasure to be around.
Jace Speaking of family — in next week’s episode, Geordie and Will investigate a murder at a cinema they run into a cigarette girl named Betsy, who’s played by a very familiar looking actor, i.e., your real life wife, Zoe Tapper. How did Zoe become involved with Grantchester?
Ollie I think I think she was at one stage she auditioned for she was in the frame for a more regular part that Morven Christie played. And for whatever reason, she didn’t get that and didn’t do that. And Emma and I think Diedrich and Richard and Daisy had wanted her back in some some capacity. And so when, of course, this this part comes along to that, to literally and in terms of the character, has it written all over it. It was very hard for her to say no. She really needed to itch the Grantchester to scratch, definitely. And came in and had an absolutely fantastic time. She loved it so much. I didn’t do any any scenes in that ep. And then she was away for about a week at a cinema in North London and doing scenes with Robson and Tom and and, um, and a few other great actors and just just loved, loved, loved it. And then in the 50s, funnily enough, this is by far and away her favorite period as well.
Jace I mean, as soon as she showed up on screen — without giving anything away — I said to myself, “There’s gonna be a way that she and Daniel are going to cross paths.” But you don’t, as you said, you don’t share any scenes. Did you plead your case to the producers that photographer Daniel ought to somehow crossed paths with this starlet somehow?
Ollie Yeah, well, it it it would have made sense. You know, there are there are there are there are a number of mentions of of of headshots. As as this particular character, I hope I’m not giving away too much as is trying to make it as as as a star, as herself, as an actress. And if if she wanted to have some new head shots, then you need not look any further than Daniel Marlowe of Grantchester, I could have done some new ones for her! But no, didn’t I didn’t plead my case, but perhaps I should. I should’ve done. I’m smarting the lost opportunity.
Jace When you were six, you developed a stammer, what we would refer to here in the States is a stutter. How did turning to acting and specifically to Shakespeare help you with that?
Ollie How long have you got? Um, I’d say without the outlet that drama gave me. I may have found a degree of fluency later on in life, but I found it a lot earlier with it. A shining example came a number of years later. You say six or seven years old, it sort of started, it did sort of manifest itself and it got worse and worse and worse. I could barely string a sentence together. I went through school and I was fairly good sport. So I sort of got away with it. I had a particular standing in my sort of peer group. But then I got to secondary school, I auditioned for a radio play that a master had written, and a lot of my friends then just thought, “What on earth are doing, what on earth are you doing? You can barely, barely string a sentence together.” But I, I just had this feeling that I needed to, I needed to see whether if if put under the spotlight, I would be able to get a degree of fluency that I felt was lacking in my life until then. And sure enough, I went into a room and there was a microphone there. And I’d read the script. I knew which bits I was doing. And because it was there in black and white, I didn’t stammer for the whole of the audition and the radio producer was there, and the next day I got the part. We drove to Maida Vale Studios, and it went out on Radio Four. And from that point, just very, very, very gradually, I started to I started to use drama as a kind of, you know the benefit of hindsight, some form of sort of therapy, a kind of means by which to be able to let my, my, my, my, my voice and my feelings be given life, to. And it has helped ever since, really. I do feel that a lot of people in their lives are running headlong away from a lot of difficulties and problems. But then again, there are people who choose to run headlong into the head of the beast, so to speak, and and tackle it head on. And this is what I do on a daily basis. I would have imagined if 25 years ago that kind of the chance to come on to record something like this with you would have would have probably meant that I, I would have been completely terrified and I may have even dodged it and refused to do it. But it is now, it’s now something that has sort of given me a voice in life and sort of continues to do so in a rather wonderfully cathartic way. Particularly, I guess particularly my work on stage as well. You know, we have two basic premises or the basic premise of when one is is allowed to open one’s breathing apparatus out and learns how to breathe properly. And then you then hopefully stop a lot of the problems that plague people who stammer as well. So I guess drama school was brilliant for that, as well.
Jace And I’m going to read you back something you once said, quote, “Once I’ve learned a line and I know the rhythms of a scene or the traits of a character, then I no longer think of myself as someone who stammers. So I don’t.” I mean, is that a bit of psychological sleight of hand then? This sort of shifting of a persona into another?
Ollie I think I think there is. I do, I help out at a medical medical institution in London called the Michael Palin Centre. And I, I go I go along there and I speak to I speak to 10 to 13 kids at a time. They’re usually sort of between the ages of of nine and 12 and 13, all of whom at that point have have relatively, relatively severe stammers. And I always demonstrate something to them as well. And I, I come in there and I speak as I’m speaking to you with a notable stammer. But I, I still have a degree of fluency as well that makes me understood. And then I just pause and breathe. And by using my breath, I speak to them in a way where I will spend the rest of the session and I’m not gonna stumble once I look at them in the eyes and I just I kind of adopt, I. I adopt a persona which to a certain degree is a persona like a coat of armor. But it’s basically something where that is rooting them in the spot to realize that as long as they are not rushing things, as long as they are breathing, you can do anything, you can stand up in front of a thousand people and and deliver a presentation or or indeed stand up on a stage or just be at home with the family, where, where, where very often stammerers are are all the most perplexed. If one is in control of one’s breath and if one has the confidence to, be able to think that they have the right to speak and the right to say whatever they want to, it’s, it’s going to come out eventually. Yeah.
Jace Ollie Dimmesdale, thank you so very much.
Ollie It’s a pleasure.
Jace Will and Ellie head to the local cinema for an awkward first date next week — but, this being Grantchester, murder inevitably follows.
Matthew You do know he’s a vicar?
Matthew Well it’s off limits downstairs. Unlike, on the other hand…
Will You need to work on your chat up lines.
Matthew I wasn’t talking to you.
Jace We head behind the camera ourselves for a conversation with Grantchester director Christiana Ebohon Green on Sunday, June 28 here on the podcast.
MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob and produced by Nick Andersen. Elisheba Ittoop is our editor. Rebecca Eaton is the executive producer at large for MASTERPIECE. The executive producer of MASTEPRIECE is Susanne Simpson.
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