Tag Archives: Diederick Santer

Fresh face

Grantchester has a new crime-fighting vicar. DQ speaks to executive producers Diederick Santer and Emma Kingsman-Lloyd about the challenge of replacing its leading character, while new star Tom Brittney discusses joining the series.

For any long-running series, its success can also become a curse. For while having a drama return year after year is clearly a sign of its popularity with audiences, those involved — particularly in front of the camera — can often be presented with new opportunities that very success has afforded them.

Emma Kingsman-Lloyd

So it proved with Grantchester, which returned this month for a fourth season on ITV with the unenviable task of introducing a new leading actor to replace the outgoing James Norton, who has become a household name thanks in part to playing Sidney Chambers, a vicar who teams up with a police detective to solve a number of gruesome crimes around his parish.

Since season three aired in the UK on ITV in spring 2017, more than 18 months have passed on screen, during which producers Kudos and US partner Masterpiece on PBS have been tasked with finding a way to give Norton an exit from the show while replacing Sidney with a new character.

“We knew James would come back and do some more but we knew fairly quickly he probably wouldn’t do a whole season,” recalls executive producer Emma Kingsman-Lloyd.

Fellow EP and Kudos CEO Diederick Santer continues: “James loves the show. He’s just got opportunities. He wanted to do right by the show and didn’t want to say, ‘I’m gone, I’m never going to do it again.’ But he was interested in doing an exit and the idea developed from there. I think it was important to both broadcasters for continuity that there would be a passing of the baton — if there was to be a fourth season, that it wouldn’t come back cold with a new vicar and no James Norton.”

The task ahead was for series creator Daisy Coulam and her writing team to find a story, now set in 1956, that brought Norton’s charismatic, jazz-loving clergyman back to the screen, leading to a final farewell, while passing the baton to a new leading character.

“What’s really nice is in storytelling on TV, departures are opportunities,” Santer says. “It’s a great shame James is leaving the show but it provides opportunities for a great story to tell — what is it that finally moves Sidney Chambers on and who’s going to be the new vicar? Knowing that’s how the season would be enables you to tell different stories.”

Robson Green and outgoing James Norton as the crime-fighting clergyman

As it transpired, it was also an opportunity for curate Leonard Finch, played by Al Weaver, to get the chance to lead the church and even audition for the role of Detective Inspector Geordie Keating’s new partner — though he subsequently proves he’s not ready for either role.

But as Sidney prepares for his exit and Leonard takes centre stage, for a while at least, new arrival Will Davenport is eased into the series before his eventual appointment as Sidney’s replacement.

“All those concerns that viewers would have are things we explore through the episodes because we never wanted to just push Will straight into it and say, ‘This is the new character,’” Kingsman-Lloyd says. “Audiences have to come to love him in the way they did with Sidney in season one. With Len having the crux of the story in episode three gives us the chance to play with that.”

Will is initially introduced as the chaplin of Cambridge University’s Corpus Christi College, where he becomes involved in a crime and first encounters Geordie, played by Robson Green. It’s not then until Sidney leaves and there’s a vacancy at the vicarage that viewers see something of the appointment process that leads him to take Sidney’s place on a permanent basis.

Diederick Santer

This won’t be a case of substituting one character for another, however, as Sidney and Will are profoundly different, meaning the new arrival will forge very different relationships with the supporting characters to those they enjoyed with his predecessor.

“It’s really interesting because the main difference with him is age,” Kingsman-Lloyd says. “He’s a few years younger than Sidney, which in the normal way of thinking wouldn’t mean anything, but in that era, it means he didn’t fight. He missed the war. Will’s attitude is very different to Geordie, who is conflicted with this younger man he doesn’t know. Very quickly he’s some use to him in his work and wants to ask him to help him out in the way Sidney did. But it’s not straightforward and Will’s not jumping straight in. As far as he’s concerned, he’s a vicar, not a policeman. We have fun with that and see their journey. We didn’t just want to parachute him in. It’s important we give time to get to know each other.”

Santer says recasting the lead role of Grantchester was not necessarily an opportunity anyone wanted — “I’d have been happy to do seven seasons with James” — but once it presented itself, it’s one they have run with. “If we didn’t have that, maybe we’d be doing an absurd story or the church would have blown up,” he jokes. “It saved us from doing something implausible to refresh the show. You never want a show like this to settle or always be the same, always repetitive, always the same tone, always the same ideas. It brings a different energy to the show.”

The hardest part of making the show, Santer adds, is getting the tone right, with the show described as a cosy, story-of-the-week crime drama, yet one containing some dark plot points and characterisation. “James Norton’s character is essentially consumed by self-hatred. He drinks and does a lot of bad things to take the pain away. It’s about post-war depression on some level and about a country at war with itself. So finding the balance between the warm, nostalgic elements and the murder, bleakness and self-hatred and we walk a line between that,” he says. “Editorially, it’s not always the easiest show to balance or get right, but in execution it tends to work well. We get great directors, great guest cast and it’s a nice place to be.”

Tom Brittney, who plays new vicar Will, didn’t watch Grantchester and made the decision not to before his audition to ensure he didn’t end up mimicking Norton’s performance or struggling under the weight of following him. That meant the actor, whose credits include Outlander and UnReal, was able to take the character as Coulam had written him and bring him to life.

Tom Brittney plays new vicar Will, a keen boxer

A rock ’n’ roll loving, motorcycle riding vicar, Will represents a new era in Grantchester, one removed from the effects of the Second World War and increasingly influenced by 1950s pop culture arriving from the US. His personality also informs his new relationship with Geordie.

“I was obviously terrified,” Brittney says of joining Grantchester, which is based on James Runcie’s The Grantchester Mysteries novels. “Before the show came out, this person asked, ‘Are you playing Sidney? Are you doing the same part?’ It’s like, ‘No it’s another, completely different crime-fighting vicar!’”

Coulam, who is also an executive producer, wrote a three-page backstory for Will ahead of Brittney’s final audition, which he says provided an astonishing level of character detail he’d never had before. But there was still room to inject some of his own personality. “You’ll always try and bring yourself to certain parts but this was one where his fire and his passion and his opinions were things I could relate to,” he says. “It was just written for me. I was connecting to it in a way I hadn’t done before with a character and just going with it. I’d never wanted to play a character as much as this.

The change in cast signifies the start of a new era of 1950s culture in Grantchester

“I think it was probably the fact he had this dark past, he was trying to become a better person and deal with parts of his anger and things like that. There’s probably things like that I relate to. I wasn’t a wonderful teenager and I try to be a better person as I grow older. That was one thing I could put into it.”

Ahead of filming, Brittney had to learn how to ride a motorbike, which he says was “tough” as he had never wanted to ride one before. “I do love riding them now. I didn’t think I would and it took me a while to get over the fear of coming off at 70mph down the motorway,” he admits. “So that was one thing I learned. Will gets stuck in a little bit. He loves to box. There’s some stunts in this, which was my first time of really doing some. The first time, I was like, ‘I want to do a Bourne movie now!’ You do a fight scene and you immediately want to do an action movie.”

On air in more than 130 countries thanks to distributor Endemol Shine International, Grantchester isn’t just a hit in the UK and US but has become an audience favourite around the world, with season four airing in the US later this year. Brittney says its popularity comes down to the fact that while the show is a murder mystery at its core, that element is often overshadowed by the lives of the vibrant cast of characters on screen.

“There aren’t many shows that give their characters that much to work with,” he adds. “There’s so much going on in this lovely little village that it’s not always about the murders but the lives of these people and you feel so invested in them and the relationship between Sidney and Geordie, and now Will and Geordie. They’ve written it so wonderfully, it’s more than just a murder mystery.”

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Diederick Santer

Diederick Santer, the MD of drama production company Lovely Day, chooses three scenes from contemporary dramas that have inspired him over the past few years.

Happy-Valley[2]Happy Valley
A big drama highlight for me in recent years has been Sally Wainwright’s series Happy Valley. I admired everything about this show – the tone, the look, the casting and Sally’s hugely original and ambitious storytelling. James Norton was filming his leading role in our series Grantchester while Happy Valley transmitted in the UK, and the parts he played in each could not be more different. In Grantchester he’s a charming vicar; in Happy Valley he’s a violent and disturbed ex-con.

Happy Valley explores, among other things, violence and, as such, has to depict it. But I’ve rarely seen the consequences of violence, and in particular violence against women, played out so fully on TV. Yes, there are disturbing moments, but the audience and characters then have to live through the consequences of those moments.

“I think they’ve killed me,” whispers young PC Kirsten McAskill into her radio as Tommy Lee Royce repeatedly reverses a yellow Mini over her in episode three. It’s a moment we and the other characters didn’t see coming. It changes everything for everyone – it galvanises sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) into action and reveals to us the full extent of Tommy’s violent and dangerous nature.

The-Walking-Dead-s3-2The Walking Dead
I love this series! Like Happy Valley it is hugely violent, but in a more comic-book way (which is unsurprising given its origin).

Charismatic British actor David Morrissey plays The Governor, or ‘Brian’ as he calls himself at the beginning of season four. By this point, we’ve seen the extent of his violent insanity, but now he finds himself in a situation where simple qualities like being a good father figure and a loving partner seem to fulfil him more than the scheming megalomania of season three.

Who is he? ‘The Governor’ or ‘Brian’? The question is posed at the start of episode seven, when it’s time for him to make a choice between peaceful and loving family life or leading a violent and self-serving army.

This conflicted man is quietly hanging up washing while playing chess with a little girl. “It’s your turn, Brian,” she says. He stares into the distance. “I’m a-thinking,” he replies. We pull back and see that the washing line is hung between a caravan and a tank. Domestic duty or war? Which will he choose? It’s a simple, dialogue-light scene, but the choice he must make is eloquently articulated.

UtopiaUtopia
I was delighted to see Utopia return last year, written by Dennis Kelly and produced by Kudos, Lovely Day’s parent company. I’d enjoyed the complex conspiracy madness of the first series, the awesome cast of characters and arresting visuals. But how could they build on this for series two? How could they transcend series one without repeating themselves?

Well, entirely counterintuitively, series two begins almost four decades earlier, with weird and saturated Italian news footage from 1979, and then quickly introduces us to the little girl version of Jessica Hyde, a key character from series one. She’s sat on a bench at night in a square in Rome, with her dad, the enigmatic Philip Carvel, much mentioned but never before seen.

The disorientation continues when Carvel is led away, witnesses an Italian taxi driver have his head blown off and is then blackmailed. It’s head-spinning for Carvel, and more so for us. And as if this were not enough, the entire episode remains in 1979 and we see none of the regular cast.

I admire the ambition of the writer, the producer and the broadcaster (Channel 4) to create this bold and assured opening. It marked out Utopia as totally original and fearless.

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