Two things not in short supply in the English village of Grantchester during the 1950s: dead bodies and handsome, unconventional vicars.
After jazz- and booze-loving Anglican Sidney Chambers (James Norton) departs in Season 4's second hour of this Masterpiece favorite (Episodes 1 and 2 air back to back), motorcycle-riding clergyman Will Davenport (Tom Brittney) takes his place at the pulpit. Like Sidney, he'll tend to his flock and help Detective Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) suss out killers.
But according to Grantchester exec producer Emma Kingsman-Lloyd, Will isn't Sidney 2.0. "Character-wise, Will is very different," she says. "He's a bit younger, he hasn't fought in the Second World War, and he's very outward-looking, whereas Sidney is more introspective and backward-looking."
The producer knew replacing a leading man as popular as Norton would be tough, but Brittney proved an easy fit. "It felt as though he had been with us for years," Kingsman-Lloyd raves. "We can give him all sorts of dark and tricky stories."
But Will is no choirboy, and his temperamental side emerges in a scene with closeted gay curate Leonard Finch (Al Weaver), who is struggling too as he tries to balance his relationships with the church and photographer Daniel (Oliver Dimsdale). "There are lots of things Will doesn't like about himself," Kingsman-Lloyd says. "His faith is very important to help him deal with that."
Cast and crew were tearing up the day Norton shot his last scenes, in the police station with Green. (Sidney's exit ties in with a story involving American civil-rights activists coming to speak in nearby Cambridge.)
"It was bittersweet for all of us," Kingsman-Lloyd recalls. "When we shot the final church scenes, James was very sad: 'That's my final sermon!' But it was also really joyous. Lots of presents, lots of champagne and lots of tears."
And yes, the actor did take a couple of Sidney's "dog collars" as mementos.
Grantchester, Season 4 Premiere, Sunday, July 14, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)