Masterpiece’s Grantchester ended last season with vicar Sidney Chambers (James Norton) and Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) mates again and Amanda Hopkins (Morven Christie) running into Sydney’s arms proclaiming she left her husband (even though she’s pregnant).
Set at Christmastime in 1954 Grantchester, England, Season Three focuses more than past seasons on the characters’ personal lives—though Sidney will, of course, continue to help Geordie solve mysteries in the quaint village near Cambridge. Paste spoke to series creator and writer Daisy Coulam about adapting James Runcie’s Grantchester Mysteries for TV, Amanda’s evolution and “Sidney in the wilderness.”
Paste: Season One was based on the Runcie books. By Season Two, were you beyond the books?
Daisy Coulam: In the books, James Runcie tends to jump forward in time. You start getting into the ‘60s. We were keen to remain in the ‘50s. It’s such an interesting time, such a time of change, a time of rules and ways to live. We’re behind the second book and we’ve taken off in different direction. In the books, Sidney gets married to the German lady from the first [season], settles down and has a child. For us, it doesn’t provide conflict. We were looking to keep Sidney single and explore his inability to be with the woman he loves, because she’s married.
Paste: Was Amanda in the books?
Coulam: She was very much a friend. There’s maybe one sentence that alludes to a possible flirtation. But when I read the books, I was like, “Oh my God, sexual tension.” That’s what you want from a vicar [laughs].
Paste: What can you tell us about Geordie and Sidney this season?
Coulam: They’re both going through troubled patches in their life and offering a shoulder to lean on. We wanted them to be together, but everything else is falling apart around them. They’re both in untenable situations. Sidney can’t be with Amanda. Even if she secured the divorce, he couldn’t be with her. They have each other as friends to go to the pub with and, in a 1950s way, unburden their souls to each other.
Paste: I watch the show just to see the main characters’ storylines [as opposed to the crime stories]. I’m pleased to hear they have deeper stories this season. Was that intentional?
Coulam: Yeah [laughs]. We have such amazing actors. Tessa Peake-Jones in real life is the smiliest lady. Mrs. M. never smiles. You get these glimpses of them before and we were desperate to explore them, to really open up their stories. The crime stories become a thematic backdrop to their stories. The idea we can take Leonard (Al Weaver) to a dark place. He’s on the surface quite a warm, sweet character, but there’s so many hidden depths to him.
Paste: Do fans watch the show for the characters?
Coulam:The tweets I see where people have emotionally responded are about Leonard, Sidney and Amanda’s dilemma, or Geordie and Cathy [Kacey Ainsworth]. It’s about those real emotions and that interests us massively.
Paste: What were your thoughts for Amanda last season?
Coulam: She’s trapped in this beautiful house, but a sham of a marriage. It’s that ‘50s thing we wanted to explore. A woman’s role is in the home, she’s playing wife and keeping house, which is not Amanda, because Amanda is lively, beautiful and spirited. When she leaves Guy [Tom Austen], for a moment, she gets to be herself. With Sidney, she gets to be [herself]. The start of [Season] Three, they’re out dancing. It’s sexy and fun. That’s who she is. She’s intelligent and she’s a woman ahead of her time, and that’s the sadness of it. It’s like Leonard. He’s doing the same thing, he’s trapped in a loveless relationship because appearances mean more than your heart, mean more than what’s going on inside.
Paste: How do you see Amanda evolve?
Coulam: She’s got more freedom. She’s found herself again. But she is in the bubble that she, as much as Sidney, needs to face up to their impossible situation. We always say about Amanda that she’s going to go off and invent the ‘60s. She’s a feminist in waiting.
Paste: Sidney was always torn between Amanda [and] the church. Does he go soul searching because of Amanda?
Coulam: Yeah. We had an idea we wanted to explore that relationship, the theme was always love versus duty, so it’s a conflict. He loves somebody, and yet the church deem[s] that to be a sin. It forces him to question his role within the church.
Paste: This season we get to see Mrs. Maguire’s past revealed.
Coulam: You see this unsmiling face, but there’s so many layers to her. What I loved in the scenes with Mrs. Maguire and the ghost from her past is, you see these glimpses of the girl she once was, this girl who danced and had a future. It’s nice to peel that away and see this lovely, smiling, quite beautiful lady underneath it by the end of the [season].
Paste: A new archdeacon comes to town, Gabriel Atubo [Gary Beadle]. It was forward thinking for the show. Did that occur in real life, then?
Coulam: We’re about five years ahead of ourselves. He’s having to lay down the law, not because he’s a mean person, but he wants to do his job perfectly. He has to prove himself because he is black in a very, very white world. That was the idea, to give somebody almost Sidney’s age that he can rail against. They have these deep discussions about what it means to be a vicar and what Sidney might lose if he throws it away.
Paste: Are there crowds when you are filming the show now?
Coulam:The first [season], people would have a quick glance. Now we have security and there’s hundreds of people. It’s great! Somebody came down with their skis and said, “Hello, we’ve seen you’re filming in the snow, could we come and ski on your snow?” It was a proper September heat wave and we put fake snow and [it] weirdly makes you feel cold when you’re near it.
Paste: The show works well because the right people were cast in these roles that play off each other.
Coulam: The energy you get on screen is off screen, and somehow it became like a little family.
Paste: Was Amanda’s style Audrey Hepburn-inspired?
Daisy Coulam: From the very beginning, there were pictures we used as reference points, and there was one of Audrey Hepburn very early for Amanda. That’s what’s nice, to see the glamour of that time.
Paste: As the writer, do you fall in love with the characters more?
Coulam: Sometimes it upsets me when you see people saying, “He’s been horrible!” and I’m thinking, “No, no, he’s just misunderstood!” Sidney is a character who’s about understanding people and finding the good in everyone—loves the sinner, hates the sin. You can always find the good in people. I love them all deeply. It’s quite weird when you stop writing. You feel bereft because you’ve been hanging out with them for a few months and you’re like, “Oh, what are they doing now?”
Paste: As a fan, I never like it when a character goes off a show’s normal set, like when Don Draper wasn’t at the ad firm at the end of Mad Men. This season, when Sidney leaves town, it reminded me of that. I want the characters together in Grantchester.
Coulam: It’s Sidney in the wilderness, his 40 days and 40 nights, discovering who he is. Sidney isn’t Sidney without being in that vicarage. He’s fighting who he is and he works in that setting. He has to accept who he is, which is the man in that vicarage, living quite a gentle lifestyle.
Grantchester Season Three premieres Sunday, June 18 at 9 p.m. on MASTERPIECE Mystery!.