When Grantchester Season 5 arrives on Masterpiece on Sunday, June 14, it will mark the end of a significant period of upheaval. After three seasons with leading man James Norton, Season 4 transitioned from Norton to Tom Brittney as the series' priest. Season 5 will be Brittney's first full year, and some new changes are afoot, even as the show settles back into its original mystery solving-in-a-small-town rhythm.
But how did we get here? Let's go back to the beginning.
Grantchester, based on James Runcie's The Grantchester Mysteries short stories, started as a direct page to screen adaptation of the first novel, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. The series starred Norton as title character Rev. Sidney Chambers, with Robson Green as his detective pal, DCI Geordie Keating. But by the time Season 1 ended, the series was already marching off in its own direction, and by Season 2 it had all but abandoned the books other than as the odd jumping-off point for the weekly mystery. The series was also no longer really about solving crimes as much as it was an ensemble piece full of the drama of small-town life.
The show also focused as much on Sidney's friends as it did the main lead. Geordie, for instance, has an affair with his secretary, Margaret Ward (Seline Hizli), who also happens to be Sidney's ex-girlfriend. This disastrous choice nearly ends his marriage to Cathy (Kacey Ainsworth) and causes his eldest daughter, Esme (Skye Lucia Degruttola), to resent him. The closeted curate Leonard (Al Weaving) finds love for the first time with a photographer, Daniel (Oliver Dimsdale), after a near-miss with marriage. The housekeeper, Sylvia Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones), known as Mrs. M, discovers that her husband, whom she believed dead, merely abandoned her. She struggles to accept her life, even as she falls in love (and eventually marries) the good widower Jack Chapman (Nick Brimble), which makes her Mrs. C.
Meanwhile, Sidney's affairs boil down to a "will he or won't he" with Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie). She's his childhood sweetheart, who he was never able to court since he was working class and her family was wealthy landowners. This could-be affair is a running plot point, despite her marrying a rich husband along the way, Guy Hopkins (Tom Austen). By Season 3, Sidney and Amanda commit to "they will," up until the very end of the finale, when the need for the series to reset to the mean drives a break-up, and Chambers chooses his vicar role and solving murders with Geordie over "true love."
Unfortunately, this was a mistake, not for the show, but the actor, Norton. Hollywood was calling, in the form of American cable dramas and big screen with roles in films like Little Women. Grantchester put production on hold for a full year in hopes he might change his mind about leaving the show. Norton eventually chose to exit, but he didn't leave the series high and dry. He returned for two episodes in Season 4, giving the show a chance to write him a new love interest in Violet Todd (Simona Brown), the daughter of an American civil rights preacher. Sidney chooses to follow her back to Alabama, where he will work to end discrimination. (This is not historically inaccurate, there were several U.K. ex-pats involved in the civil rights movement.)
Once Norton left, the series got a chance to mix and match the rest of the ensemble for an episode, teaming Geordie and Leonard up for a case in the show's most interesting odd-couple experiment. Then Will Davenport (Brittney) rides in on his motorbike. Like Sidney, Will is a bit of a rebel, though, with the show finally moving into the later 1950s, he's rock and roll to Sidney's jazz records and into boxing instead of womanizing. Also, unlike Sidney, he didn't join the priesthood as a way to atone for his experiences in World War II. Instead, he's joined as part of his rebellion against his abusive decadent-living, genteel poverty-stricken family, with a strict vow of celibacy. (He also has a violent streak, which he's working to suppress.)
But it's not long before he and Geordie have teamed up solving crimes, one of which results in the suicide of Will's father, leaving him the technical heir to the debt-laden estate.
Season 4 ended with Will telling his widowed mother Amelia (Jemma Redgrave) that even if he did wish to follow in the grand caretaker tradition of their titled family (which he doesn't) the house is far too underwater. They must sell. Meanwhile, Geordie and his family become a two-income household when Cathy gets a job working in a department store. And in Season 4's saddest storyline, Leonard breaks up with Daniel partly to please Mrs. C, who cannot handle the truth about his sexuality, but also to continue his career in the church.
After nebulously occurring in "the mid-1950s," Season 5 will mark the first time the show has grounded itself in the living history of the period, setting things in 1957. It will also bring aboard two new main characters, Ellie Harding (Lauren Carse), a semi-love interest for Will to tempt him away from celibacy, and more of Geordie's family, as Cathy's mother Diana (Paula Wilcox) comes to Grantchester.
As for the cases Geordie and Will find themselves facing this season, fans will be able to binge the whole season on PBS Passport starting on Sunday, June 14. Our recaps will follow the national broadcast schedule, with episodes airing once a week on Sunday nights. As always, check your local listings.