Saturday, July 2, 2016

GRANTCHESTER: Season 2 - Blu-ray (ITV 2015) PBS Home Video

James Norton and Robson Green mark a valiant return to form in Grantchester Season 2 (2015) as the extremely improbable, if exceedingly formidable and amiable crime-fighting duo: Anglican vicar, Sidney Chambers and Inspector Det. Geordie Keating. The bromantic chemistry, so richly affirmed in Season 1, is decidedly put to the test this time around, frayed around the collars and cuffs, marred by tragedy, infidelities, a murder or two, and, a shocking, knockdown/drag out fist fight in the chapel. If to err is human and forgive, divine, then Norton’s sexy as henna-haired hell stud of the vicarage has some serious atoning to do for the various sins he commits throughout the intrigues that round out these six riveting episodes. In some ways, Grantchester Season 2 is a more tautly written and directed affair; trading the episodic formula of hour-long crime solving in Season 1, for an infinitely more satisfying if slightly soap opera-ish through-line exploration of characters we have almost without question come to know and love; now, more heavily invested in each other’s lives and eager to spread their wings as carefully delineated individuals. To be sure, a lot can – and still does happen in this outwardly docile and bucolic hamlet; unexpected death, sex, pregnancy and, even international espionage. Unlike Season 1, the crux of Season 2 evolves around one on-going criminal investigation, ultimately to challenge and nearly unravel Sidney and Geordie’s friendship.
To be sure, there is a thinly veiled Twin Peaks-ish ‘who killed Laura Palmer’ quality to the mystery surrounding the disappearance (and later, discovery) of one Abigail Redmond (Gracie Brooks); a fifteen year old tart, aspiring to become a famous model, lying about her age to have some blue photos taken by local photog, Daniel Marlowe (Oliver Dimsdale). Abbie is later found strangled to death in Marlowe’s dark room. And the John Le CarrĂ© ‘Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ intrigues that manifest themselves in Episode 2, after the curious murder/suicide of college lecturer, Valentine Lyll (Rob Oldfield) are little more than a momentary diversion, or perhaps misdirection is a better fit, from this otherwise homespun and tightly interwoven tapestry of lies, soon to dominate the remainder of Season 2. Still, Grantchester, despite its misfires, maintains its infectious allure for postwar/Cold War England; deftly confronting moral/social issues distilled through the rubric of its semi-heroic/though oft’ self-pitying pair of crime solvers. Season 2’s tone is deliciously darker, more threatening; what with Geordie facing his fears of mortality, staring down the barrel of a gun yet again (remember, he was shot in Season 1), this time pointed at his heart by a British spy (Lisa Diveney). Geordie also suffers a crisis of conscience after a few too many pints at the local pub and some passionate kisses in a dark alley with shoot-from-the-hip police secretary, Margaret Ward (Seline Hizli). This momentarily places Geordie’s marriage to ever-loyal, Cathy (Kacey Ainsworth) in limbo and in jeopardy.
At the end of shooting Season One in Grantchester, the real-life village vicar, Rev. Stuart Mews, retired; apocryphal stories circulated, that a small congregation of the locals approached James Norton with their sincere vote of confidence he give the vocation a real try. Setting aside the fact Norton has no formal training as a clergyman I cannot imagine any church-going parishioner in his right mind thinking our Sidney Chambers the ideal candidate for his job. Let’s get real. The enterprising Sidney would much rather be rooting through case files than Psalms for sermons, indulges far too liberally in strong whiskey, and, lust-stricken for the unhappily married aristocrat, Amanda Hopkins (Morven Christie), who is on the brink of leaving her semi-abusive hubby, Guy (Tom Austen). As the star of this series, Norton’s Sidney Chambers endures the brunt of Season 2’s trial by fire. In the process, he becomes a raging alcoholic, presumably to cope with (A) being accused of improper relations with a minor and (B) betrayal from trusted colleagues within the church; Rev. Sam Milburn (Andrew Knott), and a corrupt Archdeacon (Geoffrey McGivern) who covers up Sam’s illicit affair with Abigail Redmond by relocating him to another parish while letting Sidney’s reputation take the fall in the court of popular opinion. This would be quite enough to topple any man of the cloth from his grace and sanity. Except Sidney Chambers is his own worst enemy, afflicted with a chronically mournful inability to get over Amanda, who is about to have Guy’s baby. He is also desperately trying to convince himself his own on again/off again dalliances with Margaret are the ‘cure all’ for his loneliness.  But the real test of faith comes from Sidney’s belief in Gary Bell (Sam Frenchum); a misguided teen conspiring with Abbie to abort Sam’s lovechild – a philanthropic gesture, turned accidental death that has sent Gary to the gallows.
Grantchester Season 2 is loaded with such huggermuggers; the sinful and the cunning in constant ebb and flow to keep audiences guessing; Sidney and Geordie left busy with enough homegrown investigations to narrowly divert them from coming to terms and to blows over their polar opposite viewpoints on capital punishment. Alas, even in this, our Mr. Chambers is a bit of a prig - and a hypocrite - side-stepping the Biblical precept of “go forth and sin no more” by repeatedly fouling up relationships with those who love him best: Amanda, his ever-doting stern housekeeper, Mrs. Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) and devoted curate’s assistant, Leonard Finch (al Weaver). In some ways, the arc of Leonard’s character development in Season 2 is the more rewarding; begun in Season 1 as everyone’s favorite gay ‘figure of fun’; neurotically insecure as he fumbles through his intellectually dense sermons; Geordie, repeatedly referring to Leonard as ‘the pansy’, and even his children decorating Leonard’s hair with plucked daisies to play the part of ‘the princess’ in their games of ‘make-believe’. Well, ‘pansy’ no more! Season 2 finds Leonard coming into his own; misguided in his affaire de Coeur with Daniel, but standing up to Mrs. Maguire’s constant badgering while taking the Archdeacon to task, thereby saving Sydney’s job: gutsy, bold and decisive moves our Sidney increasingly seems incapable of, or perhaps is merely too busy and distracted to resolve for himself.
ITV, the makers of Grantchester, have already signed their creative brain trust to a third season of this highly popular franchise, and it will be very interesting to see where directors, Tim Fywell, Harry Bradbeer, Jill Robertson, Edward Bennett and David O'Neill, as well as screenwriters Daisy Coulam, James Runcie, John Jackson and Joshua St Johnston will take these characters in 2017. It took almost two years to elapse between Seasons 1 and 2, but now the die appears to be cast for a long run – provided the story lines and cast hold out. Although the series is loosely based on Runcie’s ‘The Grantchester Murder Mysteries’ – a good deal of the machinations sprung forth in Season 2 are the result of the author’s fertile and ongoing contributions since the book’s publication; the characters outgrown the pages of their inspiration and evolved with Runcie’s ever-evolving level of creativity.  Season 2 picks up exactly where Season 1 left off; at a picnic by the Cam, Geordie desperately trying to inveigle Sidney in a romance of his own, hopefully to occupy more of his time than his inquisitive hobby as an amateur sleuth. While Mrs. Maguire thinks this a splendid idea – settling down, that is – Sidney is not entirely convinced of the virtues inherent in a quiet life. Mercilessly, his will be anything but in Season 2. For upon everyone’s return to the vicarage, Sidney is arrested under suspicion of having had improper relations with fifteen year old, Abigail Redmond. Abigail’s possessive father, Harding (Neil Morrissey) and her ‘put upon’ frump of a mother, Agatha (Claudie Blakeley) are determined justice be done.
But Geordie knows Sidney could not have done the things Abbie has accused him, even if her diary is teeming with references to her ‘darling vicar’. Sidney is momentarily exonerated of the charges. Nevertheless, the Archdeacon has sent Sam Milburn, a close friend of Sidney’s, to temporarily take over his duties in light of the public scandal and, more recently, Abigail’s unexpected departure. Sidney recalls for Geordie an instance in which Abigail was clearly intimidated by her father and feared to return home with her parents. Investigating the Redmond farm for clues, Geordie and Sidney discover gouges in the floor, made by jamming a chair under the knob of the door leading to Abigail’s bedroom. From close friend, Gary Bell, Sidney learns Abbie had aspirations of becoming a model and actually posed for some offbeat cheesecake taken by local photographer, Daniel Marlowe. The pair breaks into Marlowe’s studio and finds Abbie lying dead on the floor, surrounded by empty bottles of wine and turpentine. Marlowe becomes the prime suspect, until Geordie and Sidney discover he is gay. Whoops…no sex there!
Meanwhile, Geordie ascertains Harding accused several other young men of assaulting his daughter, including Gary Bell. Pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place after Sidney finds a playbill for a local stage production produced by Sam in which Abigail was the star. This flies in direct contradiction to Sam’s pledge he never met Abigail Redmond before. Under pressure, Sam confides to Sidney he was having an affair with Abigail. He is the ‘darling vicar’ of her diary, but swears he could not reveal their relationship without ruining the girl’s reputation. Besides, although pregnant, Abbie never shared the identity of her unborn child with him. Casually examining photos of the crime scene with Geordie and Sidney, Mrs. Maguire suggests the empty bottles lying next to Abigail remind her of a botched homemade abortion; the marks on her neck, not meant to strangulate, but force her to drink the hellish concoction. Returning to question Gary; Sidney find Abbie’s diary hidden beneath the dustjacket of his ‘bible stories’ reader. Pressed into a confession, Gary admits to the abortion, but insists Abbie ordered him to make her go through with it. Besides, he loved Abigail Redmond, even if he was not the father of her unborn child. Sidney encourages Gary to go to the police. But at the station, Geordie and his second, DC Phil Wilkinson (Lorne MacFadyen) force feed Gary a bottle of water, in effect, making him relive Abigail’s last moments; harsh interrogation tactics that appall Sidney.
Later, also from Abbie’s diary, Sidney deduces Sam is the father of her child and further comes to realize the Archdeacon is complicit in helping to cover up Sam’s indiscretion. Geordie can only see the crime one way. Gary must hang for murder. But no, that is not how Sidney views the facts at all. Gary Bell’s only crime was in helping a desperate girl.  Because Gary has recently turned eighteen, he will be tried as an adult, much to his handicapped mother, Phyllis’ (Helen Clyro) sorrow.  In the meantime, a repentant Daniel Marlowe goes to church to pray. He confides his sins and his homosexuality to Leonard who is exceedingly empathic. To abate his concerns, Sidney turns to Amanda who, since marriage, has found her life with Guy unbearably solitary and unfulfilling. Her days are mostly spent staring blankly from windows, or meandering between rooms in their lavishly-appointed manor house while Guy is away on business. A few drinks and some hand-holding, and it is quite clear Sidney and Amanda still harbor a great deal of unrequited love for one another. Geordie and Cathy make several attempts to inveigle Sidney with several young women; grotesquely unsuitable – one, suggesting he will have to stop drinking and listening to jazz, another serenading everyone with a few bars of musical hall tunes for which Sidney has virtually no stomach.
The Redmonds are appalled by Sidney’s frequent visits to jail to comfort Gary Bell; threatening to leave the parish. But before long, Sidney and Geordie come to investigate a murder/suicide at Cambridge University; English prof’ Valentine Lyall, presumed to have leapt from its turrets. Valentine’s Buddhist wife, Mya (Lourdes Faberes), and his best friend, Kit Bartlett (Matthew Tennyson) emphatically deny Val’ was unhappy at home. There is no reason he would have committed suicide. But because of his youthful daredevil pursuits as a mountain climber, each speculates Val may have scaled the tower for sport, only to have accidentally fallen to his death. Neither scenario sits well with Geordie or Sidney, who elect to climb the rooftops for themselves, in the process, spying a dormitory with a bird’s eye view of the turret. Confronting the student who lives there, the pair gets the answer they were expecting; two men scaled the turret on the night in question – one deliberately pushing the other off.
Sometime later, Geordie notices the same woman he casually glimpsed at the crime scene earlier, and follows her to a remote garden. Confronted by her at the point of a pistol, she coolly informs Geordie to back off as he is out of his depth. As Kit’s alibi at the time of the murder checks out, that he was taking counsel on his dissertation with Prof. Raban (Tim McMullen), Geordie suggests a second search of Val’s office; Sidney, discovering the burnt remnants of a ledger in its fireplace. In the meantime, Cambridge’s Head Master, Giles Montgomery (Nigel Planer) leads Geordie aside with a veiled threat, suggesting, among other things, Sidney is not to be trusted, and, if Geordie persists in his investigation it may have dire consequences for his own family. Mostly from fear, Geordie repeatedly stalls his search for the truth shortly thereafter. Unknowing of what has transpired, Sidney pursues the next clue, the burnt ledger, to the college’s library where he successfully matches up rarely accessed volumes with hidden dossiers on various KGB agents who have already infiltrated the campus, including Raban and another student, Rory Crompton (Josh Bolt), who later confesses to being with Val at the time of his demise. It was an accident, according to Rory. But Geordie is not buying it and neither is Sidney.  Indeed, the pair now deduces British intelligence is working to undermine their efforts while quietly exposing the identity of a rogue Soviet agent known only as ‘the Czar’.
Stumped, but suspecting Kit of the crime, Sidney confides the particulars of the case to Amanda who suggests he place himself in Kit’s position to rethink the crime. If Kit and Val were such good friends, then what would it take for Sidney to kill Geordie? Sidney reasons he could only commit such a crime if his friend willingly asked him to perform it as a mercy killing. And so it goes; Val was fatally stricken with lung cancer; that knowingly, Montgomery used the situation to allow Kit to help Val commit suicide, tailor-made to look like a murder so as to win favor as a defector for the Russians and thus expose the true identity of ‘the Czar’, who turns out to have been the long-standing and unassuming college porter, around since Sidney’s time.  To provide a sense of closure for Val’s widow, but also spare her any more undue grief, Sidney and Geordie lie about what happened that night on the turret, suggesting in his attempt to save Kit from stumbling off the roof, Val fell to his accidental death. Back at the vicarage, Sidney shares his resolution of the crime with Amanda, Mrs. Maguire and Leonard. Since Guy’s frequent business trips have taken him away from Grantchester, Amanda has become a fixture at the vicarage, much to Mrs. Maguire’s dismay. But Guy has come home a day early and learned from their chauffeur Amanda is at the vicarage. Surprising everyone at tea, Guy is cordial to the group, but later isolates Sidney in an alcove, punching him in the face and ordering him to stay away from his pregnant wife. We really cannot blame Guy for this one. He already knows he is the outsider in this lover’s triangle.
Margaret senses Sidney is reluctant to commit wholeheartedly to their relationship. She also acknowledges Mrs. Maguire is none too keen on her presence, presumably for her outspokenness, unapologetic flirtations, and, the fact she prefers to address Mrs. Maguire by her Christian name – Sylvia; a wee too informal for the stalwart housekeeper. Meanwhile, Leonard indulges in secret rendezvous with Daniel Marlowe who presses him for a more intimate relationship Leonard is, as yet, unable to handle. At the chapel, Sidney witnesses a man weeping, his hands covered in blood. The man, Theo Graham (Jeremy Neumark Jones), insists he has murdered his landlord, Eric Whitaker (Michael Shaeffer) with a straight razor. However, upon further investigation, Geordie and Sidney discover Whitaker, a cruel and barbarous bloke, ever-menacing to his wife, Vivian (Liz White) and daughter, Joan (Rosie Day), is still very much alive and seemingly uninjured. In fact, Eric denies the attack ever took place.  Later, Eric attempts to make contact with Geordie at the police station but is struck down and killed by an unidentified car. Sidney concludes Theo is the driver. But when he and Geordie confront him, Theo slashes at Sidney with a straight razor and manages to escape.
In further consultation with the Whitakers, Sidney begins to suspect Joan of murdering her own father, as she privately confesses to having no love for either parent. However, Geordie is more suspicious of the widow who has yet to shed a tear for her dearly departed husband. DC Phil Wilkinson alerts Geordie to the fact the hit-and-run vehicle has been discovered abandoned under a bridge. But Geordie is detained, and sends Sidney to investigate the crime scene instead. Indeed, he has his reasons – shielding Sidney from the fact Amanda has been caught for shoplifting; indicative of the growing malaise in her marriage. Amanda confides in Geordie she does not want to go home to Guy and he puts her up for the night in his living room.  Meanwhile, Theo’s ID card has been found in the abandoned car. Sidney finds Theo hunched in solemn prayer. But his recitation is incorrect, and Sidney now reasons because Theo has only learned it from the incorrect embroidery of the same quotation hanging in Vivian’s bedroom. Vivian and Theo were having an affair. Impatient to hook up with Geordie, Sidney instead makes a terrible miscalculation, engaging Vivian in a boozy game of wits to unearth the truth. This he achieves, discovering Vivian’s only concern was to squirrel away some money for Joan’s happiness. Alas, after years of enduring Eric’s abuse, she quite simply could not take it anymore and decided to take matters into her own hands.
At this point, Sidney is knocked unconscious from behind by another lodger, Raymond Clark (John Voce), who is, in fact, Vivian’s current lover and the driver of the car that killed Eric. Awakening some hours later, Sidney discovers Vivian, Raymond and Joan preparing to flee. Geordie’s arrival thwarts their plan. But a bullet from Raymond’s gun, meant for Geordie, is intercepted by Vivian who dies just outside the flat with Joan at her side. Back at the vicarage, Margaret confronts Sidney. She needs to know where she stands in their relationship. To convince her of his love – the strength of which even he is not sure – Sidney passionately kisses her; the scene witnessed by a very tearful Amanda, who flees in shame, presumably to return to Guy. However, shortly thereafter, Amanda redoubles her efforts to remain a part of Sidney’s life, working diligently on Gary Bell’s appeal. Although Sidney recognizes the futility in these exercises, he is a comfort to both Gary and Phyllis; in constant contact as the hour of reckoning draws nearer.  Amidst all this domestic chaos, Season 2 makes its only genuine blunder by attempting to inveigle Sidney in an exorcism and double homicide; a case involving greed and racial prejudice that goes virtually nowhere very fast and is transparently dull from the get-go.
Meanwhile, Leonard’s ‘friendship’ with Daniel reaches an impasse because of his inability to wholeheartedly commit. Frustrated, Daniel threatens to walk away. Back at the vicarage, Mrs. Maguire is revisited by childhood sweetheart, Jack Chapman (Nick Brimble) who endeavors, first, to take her to the town fete, and, then a dance. Alas, even wooing Sylvia with a lush bouquet of local blooms has little effect…at least, at first. Geordie pays a call on an old friend, Rita Jones (Tanya Franks) convalescing in hospital from injuries sustained by her brutish husband, Eddie (Matthew Jure). Geordie is adamant Rita press charges. But she refuses, perhaps out of fear of reprisals, but moreover, because the already impoverished family desperately relies on Eddie’s meager income to survive. Nevertheless, Geordie is determined to find some evidence to convict Eddie of domestic violence. Without Geordie’s complicity, Phil plants some jewelry, recovered from another crime scene, quietly removed from the police property room, in the modest flat while Eddie lies in a drunken stupor not far away. Discovering the ‘stolen’ jewels, Geordie places Eddie under arrest.
Meanwhile, Geordie and Sidney’s friendship continues to sour. Geordie is determined to see Gary Bell hanged; Sidney, invested to do everything possible to spare the boy the death penalty. When Kathy confides in Sidney that Geordie has not returned home from the precinct the night before, Sidney hurries to make his inquiries on her behalf; finding Geordie with bloody knuckles as Eddie’s body is removed from his cell. The presumption from everyone, including Sidney, is Geordie flew into a rage over Rita – whom it is rumored, he has been having an affair with – and beat the smarmy wife-abuser to a pulp until he died of his injuries.  Despite his misgivings, Sidney reasons Geordie could not have committed such a heinous crime. Alas, the situation is complicated by testimony from a seedy nightclub interrogate, Dicky Evans (Steve Toussaint) who was in the cell opposite Eddie and claims to have heard signs of a struggle and assault. Meanwhile, Sidney unearths evidence the jewelry recovered from Eddie’s flat was also accounted for previously in Geordie’s ledger; thus, suggesting Geordie had something to do with the frame-up leading to Eddie’s incarceration. 
Back at the flat Eddie and Rita shared, Sidney discovers a curious stain on the floor near the bed and witnesses one of the couple’s young children spreading rat poison. Pretending to leave the room, Sidney now waits for Rita to go out. He tails her to a secret rendezvous with Phil, who is employing her services as a prostitute. Later, Sidney confronts Phil in front of Geordie. He denies killing Eddie, but willingly confesses to planting the jewelry. Armed with this knowledge, Sidney now deduces Eddie was poisoned by Rita before he was taken into custody; his injuries sustained, not by being roughhoused by Geordie or anyone else for that matter, but rather, as his body began to experience the aftereffects from the rat poison, repeatedly convulsing and causing Eddie to strike his head repeatedly against the iron framework of the bed in his cell until he bled to death from an embolism. Under duress, Rita confesses. Alas, with one crime solved, another is about to occur – or rather, a gross miscarriage of justice. Amanda is waiting at the vicarage to share the gruesome news. Gary Bell will hang tomorrow for Abigail Redmond’s murder. Sidney rushes to comfort Phyllis. But Gary is inconsolable. Sidney remains at his side until the execution; the moment of death, understandably disturbing, but equally rupturing Sidney’s confidence, not only in the justice system, but his friendship with Geordie. To console himself, Sidney indulges in strong drink, becomes churlish toward and distant from Amanda, Mrs. Maguire and Leonard, who begin to fear for his sanity. Geordie attempts to draw some clarity, confronting Sidney in the chapel, but is nearly pummeled to the point of unconsciousness by his one-time friend who has seemingly now lost all sense of reason and control.
In the meantime, the Archdeacon suggests to Leonard he might consider the vicar’s position at Grantchester his for the asking. Sidney’s recent behavior has made his position no longer tenable. But Leonard resists, unwilling to stab Sidney in the back. Moreover, he believes the Archdeacon is merely trying to get rid of Sidney because he knows far too much about his own complicity in the cover-up and relocation of Sam Milburn to another parish. Indeed, Leonard is appalled to learn the Archdeacon has given Sam a good reference and even paid his rent to conceal the truth about his predilection for very young girls.  Sidney is stirred by a scream from the cemetery and discovers fresh human blood spattered across Abigail Redmond’s tombstone. Suspecting it to be Sam’s, as he was last seen visiting the grave the previous afternoon; Sidney begins to investigate Sam’s whereabouts, learning he has since moved into a boarding house whose mistress, Esther Bradley (Olivia Darnley) has a fifteen year old daughter, Gillian (Nell Williams) since gone missing. While Sam had earlier suggested to Sidney his impregnation of Abigail was a one-time indiscretion, discovering Sam’s choice of new lodgings points to a pattern of pedophilia. Nevertheless, it still does not explain what has become of Sam since…unless, the Redmonds know something.
Reconciling with Geordie without apologizing for their earlier altercation, Sidney suggests the clue to Sam’s disappearance lies with Agatha and Harding. The couple is in the garage, bailing hay when Geordie and Sidney arrive, but deny any such knowledge. Now, Sidney recalls a moment he earlier spent with Phyllis Bell who, since Gary’s execution, has been forced into a convalescent home; staring blankly out the window at a rosebush given to her by Agatha Redmond. Removing the plant from its pot, Sidney discovers a bloody dirt claw buried within and reasons this was the weapon either Harding or Agatha used to stab Sam Milburn as he stood over Abigail’s grave. Geordie and Sidney also piece together Sam’s modus operandi with young women and deduce Sam likely took Gillian to the same hotel he once shared with Abigail. Sure enough, Gillian is discovered there unharmed. But she reasons, Sam went out the night before and never returned. Appealing to Agatha’s sense of morality, Sidney eventually realizes Sam, who is still alive – barely – is being held by the Redmonds without food or water in a cellar; the couple, waiting for ‘nature to take its course’. Sidney telephones for an ambulance and Geordie agrees not to press any charges against the Redmonds, who have suffered enough at Sam’s hand.   
Leonard goes over the Archdeacon’s head, exposing him to his superiors as a malicious fraud. The church has decided to take immediate action – not against Sidney, but the Archdeacon. Invigorated by his newfound confidence and his victory, Leonard hurries to the small cottage where Daniel resides to profess his undying love. Regrettably, Daniel has already taken up with another man. As Geordie prepares to celebrate his birthday, Sidney finally steps up to the plate with a sincere apology. It is met with a heartfelt embrace, firmly reestablishing their friendship. Mrs. Maguire creates a minor stir when she brings Jack to the party and furthermore, abandons her usual iron-cast restraint to plant a passionate kiss firmly upon his lips. Geordie finally opens up to Sidney about his inner turmoil; hinting of the atrocities he endured as a prisoner of war in Burma; hellish memories that, even now, he cannot entirely disclose.  Sidney well understands his pain, having suffered from nightmares of his own ingrained memories about the war. Quietly left to his own accord along the River Cam, Sidney is startled to find Amanda hurrying toward him. She has left Guy, presumably for good, and confesses her vulnerability. She has always loved Sidney but fears she can never be his now; not with a baby on the way. But Sidney is overjoyed. “You have me,” he reiterates, “You’ve always had me!”
If anything, Grantchester Season 2 proves a more emotionally satisfying experience than Season 1; the directors, writers and cast moving beyond the constraints of the hour-long whodunit format, more secure in exploring the inner complexities of these varying characters in their relation to each other. The motivation in Amanda and Sidney’s detoured love affair is more deftly explored; albeit, leaving Guy’s inexplicable lack of concern and genuine affection for his new bride rather off-putting and occasionally dumbfounding. There is a brief interlude to this chasm of mutual regrets; Amanda inquiring across their breakfast table what has become of the girl Guy married, and he gingerly reassuring her he believes nothing has changed between them, even though far too much has to preserve their marriage. The most gratifying narrative arcs affectingly involve Geordie and Sidney’s ongoing bromance; dragging Mrs. Maguire, Leonard and Cathy into their quagmire with intriguing and often refreshingly unanticipated results. Sorely absent from Season 2 is Sidney’s sister, the ebullient Jen (Fiona Button); barely glimpsed at a party given in her honor to celebrate her newfound career as a harried copy editor for a reputable publishing house. In Season 1, we were introduced to Jen and her non-Caucasian boyfriend, jazz entrepreneur, Johnny Johnson (Ukweli Roach), who featured prominently in several episodes then, but is virtually gone from Series 2 without any explanation – pity, that.
Still, there is a great deal to admire about both the structure and style invested in Season 2; almost entirely a revisionist take on the episodic vignettes in Season 1, and yet, retaining enough of the elusive spark of screen chemistry to make the transition not only appear seamless, but welcome as a viable outgrowth of all that has gone before it. Point blank: the series’ creators have done their homework and it admirably shows in virtually every frame of this exemplary franchise.  In addition to taking full advantage of the verdant, picturesque landscapes that are Grantchester and the nearby Cam River, the production has also made local pubs ‘The Green Man’ and the ‘Orchard Tea Garden’ famous. And while location does indeed hold its place as a ‘character’ in these stories (after all, the show is called ‘Grantchester’ – not ‘Sidney and Geordie’) it remains the shared camaraderie between these cast members, shining through to their inner characters embroidered into these fictional tales of mischief, occasional merriment and – always – murder. Grantchester treats its police procedural crime-solving with a light, elegant touch for old-fashioned thrillers in the very best sense of ‘old-fashioned-ness’. And even more promising, the severity in these dark and brooding narrative bloodlines is never enough to unravel the underlying current of lithe joie de vivre. Here is yet another BBC production to have hit its stride with confidence, wit, humor, introspection, impeccable finesse and a great sense of style in period drama. If the producers aren’t careful, they may have another long-run in their Masterpiece pantheon of memorable crime fighters. Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis and Father Brown look out. Grantchester has set its cap very high for more intrigues and compelling drama yet to follow. Personally, we are really looking forward to more of the same and better still in Season 3!
ITV/PBS Home Video has done another bang up job on releasing all six episodes from Season 2 of Grantchester in immaculate 1080p. Quality is never an issue with the main broadcast content, although Masterpiece might want to rethink re-shooting its openers, depicting non-hi-def content dating all the way back to the mid-1970's, and not altogether successfully bumped up to a 1080p signal as the intro to this series. Still, it’s the body of these presentations that counts and herein there is virtually nothing to complain about. Original cinematographer, Julian Court’s blown-out stylized color palette has been traded in, in Season 2, for Kieran McGuigan’s more traditional look; warm, enveloping hues of subtly filtered color inside Grantchester’s chapel, and, warmer still, earthy emeralds and rustic browns for the sumptuous exteriors. In hindsight, this is a step in the right direction; the post-war fifties looking more period and vibrant than in the first season. Flesh tones are superb and fine detail simply pops as it should. Bottom line: no complaints – nor should there be any for fans of the series.
Prepare to enjoy this visual feast, succinctly complimented by an understated 2.0 DTS stereo. While some might poo-poo the fact Grantchester has no 5.1 DTS surround, the show really doesn’t lend itself to a flood of surround sound rushing in on all sides; John Lunn’s unremarkable ‘main title’ music (a terrific knock-off of his chords composed for Downton Abbey) nevertheless, sound appropriately vibrant. Extras include three much too brief featurettes in which cast and crew affectionate wax about their love of the work. It shows in the finished product. Grantchester Seasons 1 and 2 ought to be on everyone’s ‘must own’ list of great TV shows to collect. In a swirl of banal programming devoted to zombies, superheroes, fairy tale nonsense and other supernatural infliction as artless as they have increasingly become quite tasteless and mind-numbing, Grantchester is an invigorating breath of fresh air; delicious entertainment with a capital ‘E’ – which effectively can also stand for, ‘enjoy!’
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
5
VIDEO/AUDIO
5
EXTRAS

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