Year Released: 2014 - present
Starring: James Norton, Robson Green, Moven Christie, Tessa Peake-Jones, Al Weaver
(60 min. per episode)
(Drama, Mystery and Suspense)
“You told me to steer clear of murky waters. Well, sometimes they come to me.” Sidney Chambers
He’s not your father’s sleuthing cleric. Vicar Sidney Chambers is a scotch drinking smoker who loves jazz and is not unappreciative of the ladies. He‘s as human and tempted as the flock he leads, and he struggles to do the right thing as much as they do. And did I mention he is gorgeous, with a smile as melting as his earnest blue eyes?
Yes, he rides a bicycle just as Father Brown does, and Sidney even has his own mother-henning housekeeper, too. But he’s Anglican, not a celibacy bound Roman Catholic, and Sidney (James Norton) is half- Father Brown’s age as well.
Neither is he Derek Jacobi’s Brother Cadfael, a “crusader turned monk who uses his botanical knowledge to solve mysteries in the Old Norman England town of Shrewsbury.” Sidney does have a war history that haunts him, though, as we frequently see in flashback sequences of his time in the Scots Guards during World War II, where his life and death decisions still plague him.
Maybe that’s why the good vicar shuns the expected sherry and drinks scotch instead, quite a bit of it actually. All while holding his cigarette in the same hand that lifts his glass, taking in both poisons in glamorous style, his head enveloped in the smoky haze and the jazz notes that erupt from the nearby victrola.
Sidney also spends time at the local pub over a pint with Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green), who comes to rely on Sidney’s intuition to help solve local crime, which of course, is much greater than would be expected. Though the series does not stretch the number of homicides to 3 per episode as does the somewhat tongue in cheek Midsomer Murders.
The crimes do have flair, though, whether it’s a knifing in Sidney’s very own church, a Cambridge lecturer’s fail from college spires, or a brutal murder at a London jazz club.
But in a sense, the murders are really backdrop for the more interesting details of Sidney’s love life. In fact, one might even see the series as a more sedate version of television’s “The Bachelor.”
Amanda Kendall (Morven Christie) is the impish heiress who owns Sidney’s heart, but he steps back to allow her more or less arranged engagement to one of her class, thinking he is not good enough for her. Of course, we can see the two are made for each other. The very first scene of the series shows them cavorting along the shore of a stream, an unexpected tumble into the water, and then laughter so pure it is almost childlike.
After her engagement, Sidney has a series of romantic interludes with a German widow, an American jazz singer, and a pert secretary Geordie hopes will ease Sidney’s broken heart.
The married Geordie, played to perfection by Robson Green, is the perfect foil for Sidney. Gruff, by the books, and just this side of jaded, the older detective senses he needs the earnest charm and imagination of the vicar, who manages to get all sorts of information out of the locals without batting an eye, or perhaps by batting those beautiful baby blues without even knowing he’s doing it.
The prim Mrs. Maguire ( Tessa Peake-Jones), Sidney’s housekeeper, worries over his drinking and lack of a wife, scrutinizing possible candidates with resolute vigor. One doesn’t wear nylon stockings, which definitely puts her off, while Amanda, who continues her friendship with Sidney after her marriage, keeping his heart on tenterhooks, earns even greater disapproval. In subtle ways, though, we see beneath her prim ways, a gentle spirit that has been battered before and hides secret vulnerabilities.
Another excellent cast member is Al Weaver, who plays Sidney’s curate, Leonard, a sort of assistant priest. Gentle, naïve, and socially awkward, he struggles with his homosexuality, a condition he does not fully understand or accept himself, though Geordie and the church youth seem assured that he is a “pansy.”
Even as he helps to solve crimes, Sidney recognizes the frail humanity in the perpetrators as well as their victims. And he is well aware of his own failings as well. He gleans a remnant of hope and dignity from even the most sordid misdeeds. Thus, each episode ends with the vicar dressed in his full vestments bringing some lesson of faith or understanding to his flock. It is no easy task.
A fine series, both nostalgic and yet in some ways, modern as well. Not to miss.
Given how much time our good vicar spends at the pub, let’s treat ourselves to some delicious pub grub. This dish is sure to keep him warm on those cold winter nights, even if his Amanda is not there.
What more suitable dish for the shepherd of his flock than this delicious lamb casserole covered with browned mashed potatoes. Shepherd’s Pie is from Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook.
1 1/2 pounds lean, cooked roast lamb
3/4 ounce drippings or butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
11/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 large potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/4 to 1/3 cup hot milk
1 ounce butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Brush an 8-cup capacity casserole with melted butter or oil. Preheat oven to moderately hot, 415 degrees. Trim meat and cut into small cubes, or grind.
Melt drippings or butter in a large pan. Add onions and cook until golden. Sprinkle in flour and mustard. Gradually add stock and blend, stirring until smooth. Bring gravy to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Add the meat, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce and stir. Remove from heat and spoon into casserole.
To make topping, combine potato, milk, butter, salt and pepper. Mix until smooth and creamy. Spread evenly over meat; texture the surface with fork. Bake 40-45 minutes until heated through and potato topping is golden brown.