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Grantchester: small screen or book? Haddon Willmer explains why for him the printed word wins hands down

30 May 2017

Have you watched Grantchester on the TV?  Try to forget it.  Are you tempted to watch? Resist and desist!  Why?   Because the original books by James Runcie are much better and will give you a richer experience.  Why drink muddied water when fresh living water is on the table?

Sidney Chambers appears in the first of the series as a young vicar of Grantchester. As time goes on, he rises up the ecclesiastical ladder – to be an Archdeacon, and maybe a Bishop beyond that. Always, he goes about his work as a priest seriously, praying, thinking the Faith with insight, sharing it in sensitive pastoral responses to people around him.  

Here we see Anglican Christian humanism at its best – all the more Christian for being so human.  Sidney seems to be accident prone – not that he gets hurt himself, but he is forever stumbling across bodies of murdered people. Then he cannot hold back from contributing to the investigation: he is a very good detective, appreciated by his local policeman friend, Geordie. 

He enjoys the intellectual puzzles and the skills of the chase, but much more: he sees victims and perpetrators alike within the perspective of the love of God for his children who are caught and overwhelmed by the complications of life. He is a praying detective.

The depths and subtleties of human being and the mystery of God don’t transmit on TV. This seed falls on stony ground there. They are there on the page, and we can linger over them, for the books give us the chance to enter into the spirit, even while we are being entertained by the intricacy of the detection and the earthy ordinariness of life.  

The titles of the books are themselves invitations to think about the Gospel and the Christian way:

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (2012)

Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night (2013)

Sidney Chambers and The Problem of Evil (2014)

Sidney Chambers and The Forgiveness of Sins (2015)

Sidney Chambers and The Dangers of Temptation (2016)

I would recommend reading them in order. I have just read the most recent, Sidney Chambers and the Persistence of Love (2017), a wonderful book, but don’t spoil it by going straight to it.

It wouldn’t be a waste of time to read these stories and talk about them together in small groups.  

I will say no more, I don’t want to spoil the books for anyone.  

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