'There is a genuine love there in front of the lens'
Bucolic crime drama Grantchester is back for a third series of tense village relations and murder mysteries. Ella Walker discovers from lead actors James Norton and Robson Green that there's plenty of struggle and strife ahead
It's already possible to predict the one major cause for complaint that will assail the new series of Fifties-set Grantchester: no topless river scene.
However, the ever "unlikely" crime-solving partnership of Robson Green (Police Inspector Geordie Keating) and James Norton (vicar Sidney Chambers) are not in the least disgruntled at the prospect of keeping their clothes on.
"I'm not so disappointed - but I would have gone in," says London-born Norton (31), wryly.
The pair's bare chests were available to ogle in series two of the hit ITV show - written by Daisy Coulam and based on the books by author James Runcie - and their "Mr Darcy moment" is still cause for a certain amount of rivalry between the two leads.
"James was shivering away in that river scene! I just dived in really quickly because I wasn't going to compete with that body!" says Green (52), with a laugh.
Instead, this new six-part series picks up where the Christmas special left off. Sidney's forbidden love interest - divorced, single mother Amanda (played by Morven Christie) - has given birth to her baby, Grace, and the almost-couple are trying to work out exactly what they're doing.
"He's kind of exploring this thing with her, a not-quite relationship, no one's sure what it is. His relationship with Grace is confusing, because he's there as a sort of father figure, but not a surrogate father, so it's typically confusing and complicated," summarises Norton.
The crux of this series, he explains, is love versus duty.
"We're really going into depth about: what is a vocation for anyone? It's quite an odd concept for a modern audience. So few people go into the Church nowadays," says the actor, who studied theology at Cambridge and considers himself "fascinated" with religion.
"In the Fifties, lots of people would; one son would go in the Army, one son would go into the Church - and so the calling was not as rare as it is now, so it's quite hard to empathise sometimes with Sidney's choices, because they're so rooted in this vocation.
"A lot of us are going, 'What are you doing? Surely love conquers all?' But he keeps getting battered around the head by his faith. What I would do, and what Sidney would do, is very different, but that's the beauty of the writing, that's what's so much bigger than his love affair - his faith.
"What he begins to doubt is the institution of the Church, but actually, his relationship with God is totally unwavering, and it's too big, too powerful."
Meanwhile, Geordie, who appears happily married to Cathy (Kacey Ainsworth), is in fact struggling with his feelings for police secretary Margaret (Seline Hizli).
"On the face of it, you find him well, but underneath, the only person who knows things aren't that well is Sidney," says Northumberland-born Green.
"And Sidney's going through his own dilemma, so they try and give each other advice - which is a beautiful thing - but they can't, because they're not qualified. No matter how they try, they'll always fire the bullet back and say, 'Well, you can't say that because you're corrupt yourself!'"
Expect the mismatched duo to continue to wrangle with their dysfunctional friendship, in between the odd murder, of course.
"The likeable, very unlikely, very endearing relationship between Sidney and Geordie, it's what drives the show," says Green, who's starred in TV hits Soldier Soldier and Wire In The Blood. "There's an osmosis between the two of them. It's so rare in your career that you come across that.
"Sidney's duty is to God, it defines who he is, whereas Geordie truly believes you cannot solve anything by confiding in an invisible friend. You have these opposing views, but this inherent need for each other."
While Geordie and Sidney may be struggling to pick the right path, for Green and Norton, this series has been their most comfortable and effortless yet.
Green recalls shooting a scene together a few hours before this interview, which took just one shot to complete and director Rob Evans had said: "I'd only go again because it'd be different, not because it'd be better."
"Me and James are at that stage where we know each other's timing," explains Green, "we know the shorthand, and there is a genuine love there in front of the lens."
He's adamant he wouldn't do the show if Norton wasn't involved.
"Usually I'd be off by now. I get cabin fever, I'm a terrible sufferer of that in terms of, 'Right I've done it!'" the actor admits.
"But the scenes aren't the same and the writing isn't the same.
"I only do it because James is in it and Daisy's writing - that's the remit."
The problem is that RADA-educated Norton is massively in demand right now. He's recently starred in Happy Valley, War & Peace and McMafia, and is appearing in upcoming film Flatliners, alongside Kiefer Sutherland and Ellen Page.
"He's charismatic, he's incredibly likeable, he's engaging and he's a fine actor. He's going to fly," says Green.
Fortunately, despite calls from Hollywood, Norton can't shake the intellectual and emotional pull of Grantchester, either.
"The only representations of faith on TV are often quite comic, or sinister and quite negative," Norton muses.
"What I really enjoy is that Grantchester's a bit different to all those representations of Christianity and it shows a man who has a very pure and simple faith and doesn't really make it funny, or dark, or twisted in any way. And he's a hero. I'm proud of that."
- Grantchester, ITV, tomorrow, 9pm