Fans of James Norton have been treated lately as Norton has been gracing our screens constantly since the year began. Beginning with War and Peace, followed by the brilliant Happy Valley which is currently still on our screens (arrives in the US on Netflix in March) and now we await the return of Grantchester. Most actors have one regular running series, but not Norton who, on top of all of the above, recently starred in Life in Squares and Lady Chatterly's Lover. Being in such high demand (and delivering a great performance no matter what character he plays) proves just how good Norton is. So, if you've stuck with me this far, then let me explain to you why James Norton is the best actor on TV at the minute and why it is becoming more and more evident with every performance that Norton is destined for Stardom.
Lets look at some of Norton's most memorable performances. War and Peace was a six part spectacle based on Tolstoy's classic novel. Norton captivated both US and UK audiences as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky earlier this year. Without spoilers, Bolkonsky suffered hardship during his narrative, and Norton was able to convey the hardship with a mere look. That is the mark of a great actor, as we knew what Bolkonsky was feeling even without dialogue. When we first meet Bolkonsky, he is a cold fish - with an obvious craving for something more. As the series progresses, Norton makes us fall in love with Bolkonsky, with a performance that reduced me to tears in the finale. The cold, yet good hearted soldier was the heart of show and despite War and Peace being an ensemble piece, every time Norton was onscreen it was a scene stealing moment.
Perhaps my favourite of Norton's characters is Sidney Chambers from Grantchester. Everything about Grantchester is perfect - the characters are full of backstory, the setting is beautiful, especially in HD (why no Blu-ray for the UK Universal? What year is it?) but Norton is the highlight. Despite being set during such a restrictive time period, Sidney Chambers is an extremely open, down to earth and approachable man. He also happens to be the town vicar. Sidney's innocence is captured beautifully by Norton, who is magnificent in the role. Not unlike Bolkonsky, Sidney Chambers also has his own crosses to bear and his angst and frustration are vital to his character. The series one finale saw Sidney have to cope with memories from his past, and Norton delivers a spellbinding performance. Norton also has fantastic chemistry with Robson Greene, who plays Sidney's sceptical partner in crime. I eagerly await the second series. No pressure!
"It's sitting at meals, or making conversation, and knowing that everything one thinks and feels, what one finds amusing or important or beautiful - everything is different from those around you. And if they knew, they'd think you an imbecile or lock you up."
- Duncan Grant
Another of Norton's roles that I absolutely love, is Duncant Grant from Life in Squares. I often feel that this role is criminally under-rated, as Norton is fantastic in this mini-series based on the Bloomsbury Group. Apart from the uncanny resemblance to the real Duncan Grant, Norton delivers an incredible performance. I found myself empathetic towards Duncan, and that was very much due to the way Norton portrayed him. In fact, I remember being upset when Rupert Penry-Jones took over the role in episode 3, as I had become so connected to Norton's portrayal. As I said above - criminally underrated. If you haven't seen it, treat yourself. You won't be disappointed.
"You see, she's clever, this bitch... I know how a bitch like that thinks" - Tommy Lee Royce
And of course, a far cry from all of the above, is Tommy Lee Royce: The troubled, disturbed and psychotic villain of Happy Valley, which is easily the best show on television, period. The mark of a good actor is to possess the ability to make you fall in love with or hate a character. If one refers to Sidney Chambers as approachable, then Tommy Lee Royce is terrifying! Royce is unlike any of the other characters, from appearance to the way that he speaks and even the language he uses, Norton portrays the role incredibly well, and for once, I dislike his character. Furthermore,It takes a really good actor to be able to act that well alongside Sarah Lancashire. Lancashire is a power house - top of the acting game. When Lancashire is on screen, you believe every word. However, Norton goes toe-to-toe with Lancashire, highlighting just how good he really is. Moreover, I have no trouble separating Royce from Sidney Chambers or Duncan Grant - Royce seems like a completely different person, which is a testament of how good Norton is.
The thing about Norton is he doesn't simply act, he becomes the character - for example, compare the foul mouthed escapades of Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley 2x02 to Duncan Grant in Life in Squares 1x01 - it's as if they are two completely unrelated people. On top of his immense acting abilities, Norton seems incredibly humble and down to earth.
When people ask me now: who is your favourite actor? I don't hesitate, my answer is James Norton. It takes an immensely talented person to be able to play a disturbed, foul mouthed murderer and an understanding, crime fighting vicar all in the same year. I have no doubt that Norton will be around for years to come, and whether it be here or in the US, big things are coming for Norton and I, for one, can't wait to see what's next!