This article contains minor spoilers.
“Grantchester” is a British ITV detective drama set in the 1950s English Cambridgeshire village of the same name. The series, now in its sixth season, is part of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery programming.
The focal point of the show is Anglican vicar William Davenport (Tom Brittney), who works with local Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) to solve cases in and around the village. The series is based on “The Grantchester Mysteries,” collections of short stories written by James Runcie and the series creator is executive producer and head writer Daisy Coulam.
Throughout its run, the show has addressed crime while delving into various social issues, including the nascent Black Civil Rights movement and now, in season six, the illegal status of gay people.
Grantchester’s curate, Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) is gay. That storyline has developed over several seasons and has included Leonard’s breach with his father over being gay, his relationship with photographer Daniel Marlowe (Oliver Dimsdale) and his “coming out” to Will and the vicarage’s devoutly religious housekeeper Mrs. Chapman (Tessa Peake-Jones).
As season six opens, the central characters are on holiday together — Will, Leonard, Daniel, Mrs. C and her husband, Jack (Nick Brimble), Geordie and his wife Cathy (Kacey Ainsworth) and their children. The group has gone to Merries, a holiday venue in the country. Think the Poconos with bungalows and a small amusement-park-like aspect.
All the couples are having a relaxing time and — as intimated — a lot of sex in the bungalows. Including Leonard and Daniel.
But all is not what it seems at Merries. While everyone is having a good time, a murder occurs and it is revealed that Merries has been a hotbed of blackmail and intrigue for years.
Merries’ on-site photographer, Bryan (Michael Abubakar), has a series of exchanges with Leonard in which they discuss being “different.” The encoded language is painful, but clear. “Being different isn’t so terribly bad,” Leonard reassures Bryan in his best pastoral way. “Better than being something you’re not.”
But Bryan takes that soothing message as an invitation and leans in for a kiss when the two are alone in Bryan’s cabin. Leonard recoils. The viewer knows it’s because he’s in love with Daniel, but that is not how his response is perceived.
Leonard says he’s sorry and practically runs for the door. Bryan is left feeling confused and hurt. Had he misread what Leonard was saying? When he goes to Leonard’s cabin later to talk, he discovers Leonard and Daniel in bed together. His sense of betrayal is complete, but Leonard and Daniel are terrified. Their secret, once known only to Will and Mrs. C, is now in the hands of a stranger.
Bryan then begins to stalk Leonard and Daniel, who are feeling the freedom of being in a place where they are not known and where there are quiet places for them to hold hands and even kiss out in the open because there is no one around.
No one, except Bryan, who is doing what he does best: taking photos to blackmail people with. Hell hath no fury like a closeted gay blackmailer scorned.
As this first episode in the new season draws to a close, Bryan goes to Will and tells him he saw Leonard in a carnal — and illegal — act with another man. Will assures Bryan he will take care of it and urges him not to say anything to anyone else. But in the final scene we see Bryan developing photographs of a tender moment between Leonard and Daniel as they sit on a bench eating ice cream like any couple in love.
This season of Grantchester focuses on what happens next when Bryan blackmails Leonard and, since money is never enough for a blackmailer, goes not just to the police, but to the archbishop. What evolves from there is as compelling a story of the recent past of gay lives as we’ve ever seen. The series of crises that ensue threatens everything that Leonard has built his life around.
For above all, Leonard, who is by nature a timid, introverted and deeply religious man, wants to do the right thing by God, country, and much further down the list, himself.
Leonard is constantly torn by his guilt over being gay. But his relationship with Daniel and his friendship with Will and familial relationship with Mrs. C have all led him to realize that he is worthy of happiness. But then Bryan’s actions threaten not just the life he has built for himself, but his own sense of self that has been so hard fought for. The ensuing scandal rocks Grantchester and polarizes the town. What happens next is devastating.
This series has always been superb. The acting, writing and direction are all stellar. But this season’s plotting around Leonard and the still-illegal “gross indecency” of being an active homosexual in the decade before Stonewall is extraordinary.
The way this series delves into the various characters’ emotional connections to Leonard and how each is by turns driven to do what they must according to their positions is brilliantly conveyed.
Al Weaver’s portrayal of Leonard is especially extraordinary. In scene after scene we see a man who is compelled by the warring factions of himself — his love of God, his vicarage family, his parishioners, and of course, his love of Daniel. The series of events that transpires once the blackmail is in play is instructive for gay viewers: This was not that long ago that gay and lesbian people were arrested and charged for the crime of being themselves.
We don’t want to give away too much, but this is must-watch TV. The things that happen, the alliances that are forged and the ones that are sundered are truly shocking. There is a lot here and all of it forces the viewer to consider that this is still the way LGBTQ people are living still, today, under threat of exposure and all that might mean.
“Grantchester” airs on PBS Sundays at 9pm, as well as on NJTV and streaming online.