My wife and I have become fans of Masterpiece Theater on PBS. We have watched and enjoyed several of their programs including Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Endeavour, Poldark, Victoria, World at War, and Grantchester. Several of the programs are historical dramas that provide insight into the history, culture, and values of the respective time period in Great Britain.
While we have enjoyed most of the programs, we have been surprised and puzzled by how the clergy is portrayed in Grantchester. It is a drama that takes place in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Cambridge. The main character is a Vicar in the Church of England named Sydney Chambers who works with the local police to help solve crimes. The stories are entertaining murder mysteries.
In the first season, Sydney is suffering from PTSD (although the term is not used) from his time as a soldier in the Scots Guards during World War II. He self-medicates by consuming alcohol and smoking. Over the course of the first four seasons of the show, he also sleeps with at least three different women. Rather than being portrayed as a rogue, Sydney is viewed by all as a “good man,” someone who is simply “human.” Because of his actions, he struggles with his guilt, identity, purpose, and faith in God and the Church, which in turn leads him deeper into alcoholism. As Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (who doesn’t believe in God) tells Sydney, “You fall into the cycle of sin, guilt, drink, sin, guilt, drink …” When they show Sydney preaching, he is giving pious platitudes and self-help wisdom.
In addition to the Vicar, there is a Curate named Leonard, who wrestles with homosexual leanings. There is also an Archdeacon who covers up the sexual abuse practiced by another Vicar in a different parish.
On the one hand, the dramas are well written, entertaining murder mysteries. As an historical drama, they present an accurate portrayal of the 1950’s & 1960’s church culture in England. On the other hand, the program subtly devalues those who serve in ministry. The clergy are portrayed as hypocrites who preach godliness but engage in sinful habits behind closed doors. Dramas like Grantchester subtly devalue and lower our respect for clergy. No wonder the church is viewed as irrelevant.