By Mandi Benet
I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the cozy British mystery murder series, Grantchester, which recently finished its second season on PBS, has a lot to teach us about romantic heroes. Even though its main character is an improbably handsome young Anglican priest, Sidney Chambers.
A graduate of Cambridge University, bicycle-riding Sidney, with his sidekick and unlikely ally, the hard-bitten police chief, moonlights as a proficient solver of whodunnits in the bucolic and placid village of Grantchester of the 1950s. The gorgeous British actor James Norton plays the moody, angst-ridden clergyman who’s passionate about God, jazz, whiskey and women — especially his old flame Amanda, who’s now unhappily married to one of England’s wealthy landed gentry with a lifestyle Sidney knew he would never be able to give her. Norton has got the world’s women (and men?) atwitter because of his sculpted chest (of which we see a lot, thank goodness), strawberry blonde hair and killer cheekbones you could hang coats from. No vicar I ever met looked like him, I can tell you.
His hunky appearance alone (think of him working shirtless in the vicarage garden or toweling off after a dip in the River Cam) could make this man of the cloth fodder for a romance novel. As could the charming and engaging way he and his partner in the crime-fighting duo, Detective Geordie Keating, always get their killer, many times based on Sidney’s persistence and keen observation skills.
But it’s the fact that he feels things deeply that really makes him attractive to the modern woman, that ramps up his romantic hero potential: a sensitive, troubled World War II veteran who entered the church because of terrible wartime experiences that still haunt him, a shy man who drinks and smokes too much and has a complicated love life, and a canon of the church who knows right from wrong, (always refreshing in a hero), and is genuinely disappointed in himself when he makes mistakes. (And he makes them.) Yet, he’s enduringly decent: patient with parishioners, intuitive in coaxing information from suspects, determined to search tirelessly for justice and spiritual fulfillment, and kind to everyone, from the victims of the crimes he investigates and his crotchety housekeeper Mrs. Mrs Maguire, to his gay colleague, curate Leonard, and the raft of women who throw themselves at him on an ongoing basis.
But he also sabotages every other potential romantic relationship that comes his way because he can’t get over Amanda, and drinks himself into a stupor when he’s upset. After he sees Gary Bell, a young parishioner he has championed, hung for helping a 15-year-old friend abort her baby, something Sidney believes is not a crime, Sidney goes on a drinking binge. Angry that his good friend Geordie believes in the death penalty and that Bell should have been executed, he then turns his frustration and his fists on the detective.
All this is to say that Sidney is a fundamentally imperfect yet good man, and that’s really what makes a hero. He may not have made his first billion by the time he was twenty-seven but he’s trying to do the right thing. Most romance novel heroes are handsome, or at least irresistibly attractive to the heroine. But being a hero is more than that. It’s about being human. Being a melt-your-panties yet moral man. Even if that man is a man of the cloth.