What Does James Norton's 'McMafia' Mean for 'Grantchester'?

(Photo credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide/AMC/Cuba pictures)

Actpr James Norton's newest starring turn is in the BBC/AMC production McMafia. The show debuted to solid reviews, so what could this mean for the future of Grantchester? 

Semiyon Kleiman: These wars are fought in the boardrooms, not on the streets. 

Last summer, when Grantchester's third season came to an end on PBS, we did a bit of digging to see if Season 4 had been greenlit and what we could tell viewers about it, as we do at the end of all popular ongoing series. Instead, what we turned up was a rather startling interview with James Runcie, the writer of the original Grantchester novels. Despite Season 3 taking viewers to the edge of what was possible for the character, in the finale they had turned back to the status quo — either unwilling or unnerved by the possibility of ridding themselves of Sidney Chambers and the popular leading man who plays him. Runcie seemed to regret the decision, complaining that Norton had "gotten too popular" and was "too hot" for the show, suggesting he felt the actor was not appreciative enough of the series and the opportunity its success gave him.

Six months later, fans can now check out part of why Norton was having trouble committing to a fourth season of the show: McMafia, a co-production between the BBC and AMC (the company that owns BBC America.) A gorgeously filmed, slickly presented prestige-TV type mini-series, the story is based on journalist Misha Glenny's book McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld. Norton plays the lead role of Alex Goodman, scion of a Russian mob family, now living in London, whose parents were trying to move to the straight and narrow, while their son returns the family to its dark roots. 

McMafia did well in the ratings for the BBC but sank over the course of the season. Here in the States, the ratings have been relatively standard for the beginning of any basic cable peak-TV show, pulling in about a half million eyeballs for the premiere on February 26, 2018. The show has all the hallmarks of a prestige series, with a dark and gloomy air, slow pacing, a brooding anti-hero in Norton, and high-end production values. (The topical nature of the Russian mob doesn't hurt either.) And despite the above quote insisting that the mafia world is all boardrooms now, there's still plenty of bloodshed in the streets. 

Nick Wall/Cuba Pictures/CPL Godman/AMC 

While some reviews have been highly approving, with Variety praising the fully realized production values, and Rotten Tomatoes certifying it "fresh," others have complained the pacing is too slow and that the show is aspiring to a prestige designation without actually sticking the landing

Should fans hope that McMafia sinks under its own stuffiness so that Norton will be free to return to the world of Sidney Chambers? What are the chances he will return to proving that thoughts and prayers require a little detective work, and perhaps a trusty cop sidekick, to solve the problems of our day?

Perhaps he will, but rumors out of the UK as to why Norton took the role in McMafia suggest we shouldn't get our hopes up.

According to the Daily Mail and other tabloids, Norton's people are angling to nab the James Bond role next year, after Daniel Craig's widely expected retirement from the 007 position post-Bond 25. This isn't helped by GQ's story last month calling Norton "A millennial Bond."

Asked about it by the RadioTimes, Norton tried to dismiss the rumor as something that has nothing to do with him.

I did say to James Watkins, the director, are you just baiting me and stoking the rumour fire with scenes like that? When it’s reported in the press, people assume that I’ve co-ordinated the scene, but I promise you I didn’t. The truth is that it’s total speculation. It’s really humbling and flattering, but to have my name [talked up for Bond] next to the likes of Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender is just mad. If you’re thinking of putting a bet on me, keep your money in your pocket.

But while Norton does mention Grantchester in passing (he went from filming Season 3 directly to filming McMafia), he is clearly far more interested in talking up his cult status on Happy Valley, and how McMafia is a step up in his career.

For fans of Grantchester, this may be the biggest sign that whatever happens, it may be a while before we ever return to the 1950s era Cambridgeshire village. If we do, we may just find that Sidney Chambers has moved on.