Tom Brittney Rides Back Into The Village Green

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It’s the fifth season of Grantchester, and series lead Tom Brittney is firmly in control in his role as Rev. Will Davenport. He’s also — in a change — in control of his on-screen motorcycle, having finally obtained his bike license. He joins the podcast for a look ahead on the season on the way.

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Transcript

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

Life continues on just as before in the charming country village of Grantchester, with gentle mishaps, local gossip and coldblooded murder bouncing back and forth in the local headlines of the Cambridge Echo.

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Ellie The Insider can report that Tobias Montague, second son of the Earl of Montague, was seen trading blows with High Court Judge Hugh Teak’s son and namesake. Too much punch, question mark.

Jace It’s 1957. The Prime Minister is Harold ‘Big Mac’ Macmillian, who famously said that the British “have never had it so good.” As the fifth season of Grantchester begins, Reverend Will Davenport is firmly ensconced in the tidy vicarage, shepherding his flock of the faithful toward a new Eden.

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Will: And the Lord God planted a garden, eastward in Eden. And there he put the man whom hehad formed.And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food;’ We all know how the creation story starts. But even though we’ve been cast out of Eden, that doesn’t mean we have to wait until Heaven to glimpse paradise.

But as faithful MASTERPIECE Mystery! viewers no doubt expect, nothing in Grantchester is ever what it appears — this season more than most.

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Heather: All this rubbish about connections and jobs for the girls – you only got the job here because they wouldn’t have you anywhere else. I mean that’s what it’s really like, isn’t it? Be honest. We can have degrees but at the end of the day we’re all gonna be someone’s wife in five years time, popping out kids and organizing charity lunches.

Jace Series star Tom Brittney feels well at home in his role after two seasons as vicar Will Davenport, and he joins us in a new conversation to explore how Will might still grow and learn himself in the episodes to come.

Jace And this week, we are joined again by Grantchester star Tom Britney. Welcome.

Tom Brittney Hello. How are you doing? It’s been a long time.

Jace It has. In fact, the last time we spoke, you were the new vicar on the street, coming to Grantchester in its fourth season and joining the cast of an established series. How were your experiences different going into season five?

Tom Well, I’d like to say it was less scary, but that would be lying. It was a different sort of fear. It’s the difficult second album, isn’t it? It’s, you know, the first series with me and went pretty smoothly. I’d like to think, for a difficult transition from what it was with James leaving and the stresses of having to fill those boots that went OK. And then just trying to do that again. And I think it went pretty well. I mean, one day of being Will again and you’re straight into it. And luckily, surrounded by so many wonderful people who make it such an easier process. So I think it went well.

Jace You’ve now played Will Davenport for a full season. We’ve learned more about his well-heeled past. We’ve met his family. We’ve rattled some of the more scandalous skeletons in his closet. How has your perception of Will as a character changed the more that you’ve gotten to know him?

Tom I felt much more in him, and again, I’d like to think it was down to some skill as an actor. It is. It is the writers as well. So it was it felt like fitting into a person I’d already know. It wasn’t hard to get back into it, but learning about him. He went through a lot last series, ending with his his father killing himself. And it’s been a year since. And he’s still dealing with that. So there’s still stuff that he has to deal with. But it’s he’s feeling more comfortable in his position, I think. And then there’s straight into the first episode and there’s a load of things thrown at him.

Jace There was a darkness to Will that came out last season that surprised me in his sense of anger, this intense sense of shame that he carries with him. What do you make of these darker aspects of his character? Are they an opportunity to shade him in a little more, to add a deeper sense of humanity behind the dog collar?

Tom God, I forgot how good your questions are! I mean, you’ve answered the question yourself. What? Yeah, of course. From the moment that I ever got to read this script, there were always those little shades, light and shade parts to him that I found so much more interesting than the other characters that I played old or auditioned for. And there was something about him that he presents as a very calm and collected person. But underneath he’s always fighting these demons, which will never really go away. It’s just how he tries to deal with it, moving forwards.

Jace Grantchester is equal parts murder mystery and morality play. Will might smile in the pulpit, but he’s also seeing humanity at its very worst, its most callous and indifferent. Without giving too much away, how much is Will further challenged by the crimes he’s witnessing this season?

Tom I think that’s not one of the hardest things for, well, is in the last series. There was a scene talking to Jodi before he finds out about his father being involved in a murder. I’ve sort of always trying to look for the best in people. And Geordie is trying to tell him a hard truth that that isn’t always possible. And I think over the year that we’ve seen him and being with Geordie and seeing these horrific crimes has changed him and he is starting to lose that hope. And I think through this series that is really, really challenged, I think this series just takes him to the edge completely of his beliefs and humanity and there being any good in any one. And so yeah he is really challenged in that this series.

Jace In his first sermon of the season, Will says, “We can never return to Eden.”

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Will And the Lord God planted a garden, eastward in Eden. And there he put the man whom hehad formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food;’ We all know how the creation story starts. But even though we’ve been cast out of Eden, that doesn’t mean we have to wait until Heaven to glimpse paradise. And Just because we’re fallen, doesn’t mean we have to keep falling. We don’t have to listen to the Snakes. We don’t have to eat the apples. Though I could probably make an exception for Mrs Chapman’s apple pie. We can never return to Eden, but through our choices, our actions – with Jesus’ help – I believe we can get close. We are all Adam and Eve, and the world is our garden. Amen.

Parish Amen.

Jace There’s a real sense threading throughout this season of Eden, a paradise of which we’re unworthy. How important is this concept to the overall story that season five is telling?

Tom God, that’s a really good, really good question. It’s him kind of, I think, coming to terms with the fact that it isn’t possible to go completely back. But what we have to do is make the best what we have and turn it into our own personal Eden. And that’s sort of the theme of the whole series. How Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister, made a promise, “Britain’s never had it so good.” That was a big theme that Daisy and the producers wanted to put into this, of everything seems fine on the surface, and Will is again pushing this optimistic idea. And so it becomes a theme. That stuff in life isn’t always as good as we think it is. And there are snakes in our Edens.

Jace True or false, you passed your motorbike driving test and can now do your own motorcycle stunts?

Tom True. I am very happy to say that that is completely true. I think there is all but maybe one scene, which was one of the first motorbike scenes. They were all me, which is good. And I feel bad for the stunt man who they brought in and dressed up like me. And I came in and very proudly went, “You go home, mate. This is me.” It took me a while, third time lucky! But I was going to get that license and I’ve never been happier.

Jace The dynamic between Geordie and Will was an intriguing one last season. They started off at odds and slowly developed into close friends. In this first episode back, they seem closer than ever. They’re besties, with in-jokes. who enjoy ribbing each other.

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Geordie I’m surprised you made it.

Will Hangover’s never kept me from a good breakfast.

Geordie Not talking about the hangover. I thought staying in a college bed might’ve stirred some of the old instincts.

Will Yeah, sleep.

Will How was your night?

Geordie Like being a PC again. All hands on deck – six drunk and disorderlies, two serious assaults, but only four incidents of indecent exposure.

Jace What do you make of their dynamic this season?

Tom It’s been a funny dynamic going from being at odds with each other at the beginning series four, and then coming to respect each other, also butting heads a lot, and they have that very me and Robson, both both, we discovered, we didn’t realize that what was happening, that we’ve discussed that we were having this paternal, this father-son relationship that was happening. And that’s something that Will subconsciously is trying to fill, that father figure role. Geordie always is halfway between father and best friend. And you seem at the beginning, they’re always ribbing each other and that never that never stops. But you also see that there’s someone else in my life who is also filling that father shaped hole that Gerodie is probably quite jealous of. And so that adds a little bit of tension to our ever-growing friendship.

Jace Vic Morgan, who runs the boxing gym, seems tailormade to step into the role of father surrogate for Will. He seems to tick all the boxes. A sense of do goodery, a sort of Cockney swagger that’s lightyears away from Will’s own father’s patrician iciness.

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Vic Alright, straight-in – twenty press- ups: chest to the floor… Come on, you too, Vicar – show ‘em how it’s done!

Will  I’m busy losing to this bag.

Vic You alright?

Will Ah, you know…The world.

Vic It’s a beautiful place – and don’t let anyone tell you different.

Jace How would you describe the rapport between Will and Vic?

Tom Vic has this thing that he makes Will’s optimism seem like the right path. Geordie is very tough love at times and tries to keep him down to earth, which, Will, as we know is always the eternal optimist. Doesn’t gel with that idea. But Vic is that character. He’s always optimistic, always giving him that loving advice and even Will sometimes is like, “Really Vic, you know, you’re too good for me.” And so he becomes that sort of father figure that he never had in his life. Like what you said, his actual father was the complete opposite and pulled him down as much as he could. And Vic is always pulling him up. And that’s what he loves about Vic.

Jace Does this closeness with Vic signal perhaps Will pulling away from Geordie?

Tom Completely, that’s probably the biggest dynamic shift in our friendship, as close as me and Geordie have become. There is a distance coming between us as I get closer to Vic, because, like I said, Geordie’s idea on life and his cynicism doesn’t always help Will and his striving for this optimism and perfection. So there is at the beginning of this series, you can see this chasm between Geordie and Will start to open.

Jace Before this next question, a quick word from our sponsors…

Jace Season five opens with Will speeding through the English countryside in black tie. He’s drinking champagne with Cambridge co-eds. How much does this single image set the tone for what’s to come this season for Will?

Tom It shows that as much as he’s trying to escape his past, there’s always going to be part of him there. That old part. But he’s trying to get away from. You see him drinking the champagne and flirting with a college student. Just through a look and trying to whittle himself not to follow that dark path that he’s tried so hard to get away from. But there’s this, I think, just as much as he’s spent the last year since his father killed himself, building himself back out. There’s still a daily challenge, if not falling back into the same way that used to be when he was younger.

Jace I mean, the whole notion of celibacy is an interesting one for me because he holds himself to such an impossibly high standard, one that’s insanely far above what’s expected for anyone else because of that. Is he inherently destined to fall?

Tom I think that’s a very astute observation. It’s one of the biggest things I remember when I was doing the panel last year that allowed the questions I would. Does a does a priest or a vicar have to be celibate isn’ that a Catholic thing. And of course, he has set this rule up for himself. And that’s one of the biggest jokes in this series of Jodie always taking the mick out of his celibacy that he’s decided to put upon himself, which is unnecessary. But Will, it is completely necessary because he’s built up this idea that every woman he’s ever going gone near and going to go near, he will destroy in some way. So any sort of divergence from that path will lead to destruction for him and that person. And that becomes one of the biggest things in this series when he meets Ellie, played by Lauren Carse, is she very quickly makes him think twice about this vow that’s he’s self-imposed.

Jace I want to talk about Ellie. He meets her over a fry-up. And it’s definitely not a meet-cute scene. It’s awkward and tense. She knows that well as celibate, she makes a joke about it.

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Geordie What is it with bloody students at this time of year?

Will It’s the end of term Geordie, they’re just letting their hair down.

Geordie And their trousers.

Ellie Who’s letting their trousers down?

Geordie Morning, Ellie.

Ellie Oh come on – I’ll tell you which senior police officer was seen perusing the ladies of Mill Road last night.

Geordie William Davenport – Ellie Harding. Ellie writes for the echo. Seems to think I’m a free source of news.

Ellie And cigs.

Will Hi.

Ellie He’s better looking than the rest of your boys.

Geordie I wouldn’t bother – he’s celibate.

Will Thanks.

Ellie Oh! You’re that Will. Should change your name to Won’t.

Jace What does Will initially make of Ellie, given that she’s so different to the women he typically meets who fall all over him?

Tom Well, you hit the nail on the head. Instantly he can see in Ellie. I mean, she’s beautiful. And you can see that the instant attraction is there. But then he starts to find out about her being this journalist and her techniques of acquiring information are not exactly moral in his eyes. So he goes very quickly from finding her attractive to finding her quite hard to deal with. But also, he’s strangely attracted to this very strong-willed, opinionated woman, which, of course, in the 50s is a rare thing. It’s not that women didn’t have those opinions. It’s just they weren’t allowed to say them out loud in the same way. And so she’s a woman who’s completely not afraid to be that, to come into a room, nick one of Geordie’s fags and say something, you know, again as well and maybe make fun of him. And there’s something strangely attractive about that as much as it irks him, every time she gets involved in the case above and beyond her position. But then again, Will’s a vicar on a crime case. They both have that in common. They shouldn’t be there.

Jace They definitely should not. As Ellie, Lauren Carse brings a flintiness and spark that puts Will on his back foot. Instantly. What did you make of Lauren when you did the chemistry read with her?

Tom Well I chemistry tested with about five or six actresses and every single one, a completely different vibe to Ellie, they took the words in the page, on these two, I think we did two or three scenes together and they each just took them and ran with them in different ways. But there was something about Lauren. When we did this chemistry test, there was a scene that isn’t actually in the series, but it’s her really grinding my gears and really challenging me, which Will does not like, he hasn’t been challenged like this by someone. And he does really put him on the back foot. But there’s also this spark, and there was something that me and Lauren really had in that chemistry test. Just a little moment between all of that taking the piss out of each other a little bit is that there was a little moment there, and she really had it and I think afterwards we all you know, I mean, me and the producers were like, this is, that’s Ellie. And she really nailed it, she had that she hit the ball at the park.

Jace After his father’s death last season, I was hoping we would see Will’s storyline with his mother, Amelia, continue. How much residual guilt or shame is, Will carrying around with him this season about his father’s death, and how does that color his dynamic with both Amelia and elsewhere in his life?

Tom He does blame himself a lot for his father’s death. In his head, it was completely his fault. He wouldn’t be dead if it wasn’t for him coming into that house and bringing Geordie. So it’s something that he has to deal with every day and his mother now, her whole life that she was accustomed to, as much as it was a life that Will did not think she should have, not just because of  the enormous wealth that he feels that no person should have. That’s not right. But just her and as an individual should not have been in that position. So it’s that sort of weird paradox of that he freed her. And so he’s also dealing with the idea that her life should be better now. That’s his way of sort of being maybe in denial, maybe, not of the pain that he caused is also a freeing thing for her. And now she can lead the life that she should have had. She can move out of the house and be away from that terrible man. And the problem is that his mum is not grateful, as she maybe shouldn’t be, but she’s not seeing the positives. And so there’s this constant battle with his mum to try and see this life, this new life as being better, but that’s his way, I think it’s dealing with his own guilt and that does make it a lot harder.

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Will You’ve got money, a flat in Chelsea, this is your chance to build the life you want@

Amelia I had the life I wanted.

Will I saw a dead girl today who’ll never have that opportunity.

Amelia Yes well I can’t compete with that.

Will I’m not asking you to compete, I just want you to try…

Mrs. C More Shepherds pie anyone?

Amelia No thank you, Sylvia.. It was delicious, but I’ve had quite enough.

Will Mum…

Amelia Would you be so kind as to telephone for a taxi?

Jace This week’s mystery involves Jessica Hall, a Linley College student turns up dead in the river, a very Ophelia-like death that kicks up an exploration of secret drinking societies, drug use and sex. Is it a rather ingenious way for the writers to reveal more about Will’s own debauched past as a Conquerer?

Tom It is, I think, I think bringing Will back into his old haunts, back into the university that he went to, and when he went to that university, he was a vastly different person from who he is now. So it’s hard not to, for him not to go back to those places with all those memories, which he’s coming to from a very different position now. He has this knowledge of how the underworld of a university works because he was part of it. But he doesn’t look at it in the same way. And so it’s a very interesting. It was very interesting thing to do, to see him have this very. You have a very different view on his own life and having to educate Geordie. That was the funniest bit, I think, in the script as well. Is Geordie is so removed from this, both by class and everything. He couldn’t be in a more alien world. And Will is his key into this. And I think that I think that changes their relationship a little bit as he sees all these little these little parts of Will’s past come out.

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Geordie What is the world coming to? Female drinking societies, that’s the last thing I need — the boys are bad enough. Don’t tell me you were in one?

Will  ‘The Conquerors’.

Geordie Oh yeah? And what did you conquer?

Will Ourselves mostly. Ten pints and urinating in letter boxes.  I know, it’s pathetic. But I suppose you just want to feel part of something at that age…

Geordie What’s wrong with national service, Will?

Jace I mean, he’s so just stunned and weirded out by all of this. It’s very alien. Why does Will take such an interest in Matthew suggesting, that instead of Geordie charging him, he’s sent to Vic’s Victors and gets a second chance?

Tom Because that goes along with Will’s ethos on how people should be treated. Well, as always, had a problem in certain places there, sometimes in the last series where he thought people should be arrested quicker than they were. His moral compass can move in certain ways. But with a young boy who he can very easily say is in a position, has acted because he was under a different sort of pressure, he can see that. And believes that this person, because he still is holding onto this core belief in himself that people can be good and people are innately good. He’s trying as hard as no matter how much evil he sees in the world. And Matthew, you can see, is maybe a chance to prove that. And then the more that Geordie fights against it, the more he wants to fight to show them it’s true. That people can be redeemed.

Jace The final image of the episode seems to hammer that home, it’s Will watching Matthew box at Vic’s. And it seems to hit home this point that second chances can work. We can change. We can shift our patterns. How does that image connect to his conflicting emotions about Amelia and the way that people can’t necessarily change their patterns?

Tom It’s finding the small victories where you can. I think he’s starting to realize that he can only work so hard with his mother. And that’s maybe some of the cynicism, the healthy dose of cynicism that he’s learned through his time so far with people like Geordie is, is that maybe you can’t always sort everything out. But he can, if he can do it with Matthew, maybe that’s enough to make him feel like he’s a better person. Maybe it is trying to find those places where it makes his convictions true.

Jace If you were to sum up season five of Grantchester in three words, what would they be?

Tom Oh, God. I think you asked me this last series, and I think I found it…three words to sum up. Dark, dark is definitely one of the words. Dark twists and turns. And I’m going to use an ampersand as one of the words. An ampersand doesn’t count as a word. Dark twists & turns. Does that count?

Jace I’ll take it.

Tom You gonna take that one? Okay.

Jace I’ll take it. I’ll take it. Very broadly, what can you tell us about what lies ahead this season for Will?

Tom I think all I can tease is that what is to come is probably one of the most unexpected twists that this show has ever done. And it takes all of our characters, each and every single one, to the darkest depths of the characters. But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll see.

Jace Very intriguing. Tom Brittney, thank you so much.

Tom Thank you very much.

Jace The most unexpected romance in Grantchester still has room to bloom — and Leonard and Daniel have spent the last three seasons inching their way toward a vague sense of happiness.

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Daniel: Until next year then?

Leonard Well,I’ll see you before then.

Daniel Inshallah…I think we’re allowed a stiff handshake.

Jace Actor Oliver Dimsdale joins us on the podcast on Sunday, June 21 to give photographer Daniel Marlowe his rightful due.

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 MASTERPIECE is Susanne Simpson.

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