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The best James Norton roles to watch once you’ve binged Grantchester

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Grantchester

Grantchester might be one of James Norton’s most famous roles, but there are plenty of other television shows starring this British actor to watch next.

If you look up the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ in the dictionary there would be no words, only a picture from Grantchester.

The television show is the Platonic ideal of comfort television, a series cooked up by an algorithm designed to soothe. How else can you explain the narrative of a clever and, it must be said, sexy priest assisting a rogueish detective to solve mysteries in a small Cambridgeshire village in the 50s? Comfort television. The most pleasurable of guilty pleasures.

But like all good things Norton’s time on Grantchester has come to an end. The fourth series of the television show is his last, and it’s already ended in the UK, with Norton’s final episodes to air shortly in the US. Don’t worry, the series will continue without him, with Outlander’s Tom Brittney stepping into his recently vacated vicar’s robes. 

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But if you’re missing Norton on your screens Grantchester is far from the only role worth seeing in Norton’s filmography. Here are the roles you need to watch next.     

Happy Valley 

Now for something completely different. If you like the cosiness and the Agatha Christie-ness of Grantchester, you might find Happy Valley off-putting. Both are crime dramas but cut from very different cloths: Happy Valley is gritty, unsettling and profoundly grim and focuses on the repercussions of the brutal crimes of one man.

That man is Tommy Lee Royce, played with unnerving intensity by a shorn-headed Norton. The power of the role, according to Norton, is in how Royce is both the shocking bad guy and, at times, a figure of empathy. “You have to somehow like the character, or at least understand why they act the way they do,” Norton has said. “With Tommy, I can’t stand ‘outside’ and be cynical or judgemental about him. In his head, every hit, every rape, is about survival. It’s the saddest thing, just heartbreaking, when you think that someone can think of the world as so hostile, can be so threatened by everyone and everything, that he can justify what he does in his own head.”

Norton also added that he knows that playing a supervillain isn’t endearing himself to anyone. “Eight million people are currently wishing me dead,” he joked. “Even my dear old mum said she’s found herself standing up, screaming at the telly – and then suddenly remembered that it was her son.” 

Where can I watch Happy Valley? Happy Valley is available to stream on Netflix in the US and UK

Black Mirror

Norton stars in the first episode of Black Mirror’s third season as a man living in a society in which every single act of human interaction is ascribed a rating. Those ratings are visible to everyone and have a material impact on your life and status. 

Norton’s character Ryan doesn’t care about the ratings, but his sister Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) does, acutely. And this episode of Black Mirror is about examining society’s obsession with what other people think about us and whether or not there is meaningful value or self-worth to be found in ratings. Written by Michael Shur, the man behind The Good Place and Parks & Recreation, and Rashida Jones this is one Black Mirror episode not to be missed. 

Where can I watch Black Mirror? Black Mirror is available to stream on Netflix in the US and the UK. 

War & Peace 

In Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel War & Peace, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is the matinee idol. Handsome, smart and sensitive, he is the romantic hero with whom the young, naïve Countess Natasha Rostova pins all her hopes and dreams. War separates them but the forces of fiction reunite them towards the end of the novel and their love reaches its tragic apex.

Do you want to guess which character Norton played in the 2016 BBC miniseries War & Peace? Bolkonsky, of course. Watch his tender scenes with Lily James, who played Countess Natasha, and you’ll see just what perfect casting that was.

Where can I watch War & Peace? War & Peace is available to stream in the US on Amazon Prime and on Netflix in the UK.

McMafia

Ever wanted to see an actor audition for the role of James Bond across the course of eight episodes? You need to watch McMafia. This is truly Norton’s attempts to showcase himself as a compelling action hero, all grit and sharp edges and steel.

Based on a true story, the BBC television series follows Alex Goodman (Norton), the British-raised son of a Russian mafia boss. Thus far, Alex and his father’s lives had remained separate. But his dad’s attempts to escape the underworld mean that Alex has to finally confront the shady, murky truth of his past.

Where can I watch McMafia? McMafia is available to stream in the US on AMC and in the UK on Amazon Prime Video.

Life in Squares

How many movies and television series about the Bloomsbury group will we watch? The limit does not exist. Our obsession with the bohemian group of artists, writers and composers living and working (and getting romantically entangled) in the early 20th century knows no bounds.

Take Life in Squares, for example. It’s a fairly straightforward miniseries about the lives and loves of the key figures in the Bloomsbury group including Virginia Woolf, Vanesa Bell and Lytton Strachey that is elevated by a series of intimate, emotional performances. Those performances include Phoebe Fox as Vanessa Bell and Norton as Duncan Grant, the celebrated painter who had an affair with Vanessa, with whom he fathered daughter Angelica (Lucy Boynton). If you’re a fan of this artistic era, this under-the-radar miniseries will be a must-watch.

Where can I watch Life in Squares? Life in Squares is available to stream in the US and the UK on Amazon Prime Video.  

Hampstead

Norton’s role in Hampstead might be small, but it’s definitely worth seeing. The actor stars alongside Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson in the uplifting true story of Harry Hallowes, a homeless man who squatted in Hampstead Heath for decades after being evicted from his council flat in Highgate.

Because he was working on television projects at the time Norton was only able to film a few scenes. “But they are with Diane Keaton,” the producer told him. “That’s a pretty big draw for any actor,” Norton said. He added that working with Keaton lived up to all expectations. “She is so bubbly and full of this wonderful lightness and I was taken aback by how so incredibly engaged she is with you. She was genuinely interested in what my mum was up to and how my girlfriend was. She was like that with every member of the cast and crew.” 

Where can I watch Hampstead? Hampstead is available to stream in the US and the UK on Netflix

What’s next for James Norton?

Norton’s dance card is about to get very full. The actor will be starring in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women as John Brooke, the esteemed private tutor to Laurie (Timothee Chalamet) who ends up falling in love with March sister Meg (Emma Watson). Gerwig’s adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel is one of the most anticipated movies of the year, and no wonder considering its all star cast including Watson, Chalamet, Saiorse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Louis Garrel, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.

After that he will star as the duplicitous Stephen Ward in the BBC’s The Trial of Christine Keeler. Focussing on the true story of Christine Keeler (Sophie Cookson), a 19-year-old model who ends up embroiled in a national scandal after she is exposed for having an affair with John Profumo (Ben Miles), then Secretary of War. Ward was the connected osteopath with links to the royal family who introduced Profumo to Keeler.

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The post-#MeToo era is the perfect time to revisit the scandal, given its themes of sex, slut-shaming and power dynamics. And, given Norton’s performances in productions like Happy Valley and McMafia, expect him to bring an inscrutable edge to this famously enigmatic figure. 

Little Women will be released in cinemas on 25 December in the US and in 2020 in the UK. The Trial of Christine Keeler will air on the BBC in the UK in November and in the US at a later date.

Images: ITV 

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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