Saturday, August 11, 2012

By the Light of the Television: Endeavour (2012)

Old franchises never die--they just get rebooted!  The last Inspector Morse film, starring the late John Thaw as the uniquely-named Endeavour Morse, appeared nearly a dozen years ago.  The first episode of the ongoing Lewis series, about Morse's number two, Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately), premiered in 2006.  Now we have the pilot film for the new series Endeavour, which envisions a young Endeavor Morse back in the ancient mists of time when The Passing Tramp was born: the mid-sixties!

Shaun Evans endeavors to recapture the Morse magic

One can be cynical about this sort of thing.  In today's youth-obsessed age, what's the best way of rebooting a series?  Like in the case of the recent Star Trek reboot, it seems to be reimagining your old middle-aged characters as hot young 'uns!

So I was initially skeptical about Endeavour, I must admit.  Judging from the stills of Shaun Evans (aside: no doubt an incredibly distant relative! Evans is the eighth most common name in England and the most common name in Swansea; apparently in Wales a minute won't go buy without you're stumbling over an Evans), I thought he was all wrong for the part.  Tall and rangy, rather like Laurence Fox's Sergeant Hathaway in Lewis, he seemed an odd choice for john Thaw's short and stocky--oh, let's be honest, a wee bit lumpy and dumpy--Morse.

two peas in a pod?

But I'm pleased to report I was all wet on this one!  I really enjoyed Endeavour.  While the Lewis series is workmanlike and likeable, Endeavour does something Lewis only rarely manages: capturing the moving, melancholy quality that made Morse memorable for so many viewers back in the 1990s.

In addition, there's the added interest of the swinging sixties setting (when the series opens we're thankfully in 1965, when good taste was still fashionable--I don't want to see Shaun Evans' Morse in fat ties, gold chains, unbuttoned shirts and polyester flair pants, listening to Mahler by the illumination of a lava lamp and letting the word groovy escape from his lips).

By the end of Endeavour I was totally convinced Shuan Evans was the young Morse.  Evans captures Morse's intelligence and melancholy (particularly where women and classical music are concerned), as well as his determination and brashness on a case (like Thaw's Morse he can jump to conclusions and land himself in trouble).  Physically Evans and Thaw aren't much alike, but Evans does capture Morse's mannerisms and between the two men there's also similarity about the eyes (no doubt Thaw's many women fans from the 1990s would call them rather soulful!).

Morse establishes an important new relationship

Amusingly, we get to see Morse developing two of his most important relationships: those with beer and classic cars.  It doesn't go so well with Morse and women, but when did it ever in the original series (answer: very rarely).  Of course it doesn't help that Morse is always falling for women who in the cases he is investigating are either suspects or intimately involved with suspects!

In the case at hand, Morse's love interest is Rosalind Stromming (Flora Montgomery), wife of Dr. Rowan Stromming, an Oxford professor and one of his lead suspects in the murder of a teenage girl (another way Endeavour is true to the original series is that it adds to Colin Dexter's legion of Lolitaesque, nymphettes who are always getting involved with much older men).  Roaslind is not only beautiful and a bit older (in a sexy, sophisticated woman kind of way) than the somewhat awkward and gangling Morse, but she's a retired opera diva!  Is it any wonder our Morse is besotted?

Yup, it's love!  How will it end?

Endeavour strikes many other classic notes as well.  The plot is nicely complex, involving some familiar gambits, creatively applied. Crosswords and poetry are invoked.  There's a car salesman suspect, leading Morse to eye a Jaguar.  There's beer!  Opera arias!  Oxford dons, high level corruption and lots and lots of illicit, inter-generational sex!

I noticed a few actors who were veterans of the original Morse series.  I have no doubt that this was intentional and that I probably missed a few (of course there's the obligatory Colin Dexter cameo--he shows up in Lewis too).  It was pleasing to see Patrick Malahide, now pushing seventy, playing one of his patented satyriac sleazebags (he goes all the way back to the excellent 1990 Morse episode Driven to Distraction).

But the most notable actor in Endeavour, aside from Shaun Evans, is Roger Allam, who plays the young Morse's mentor, Inspector Fred Thursday.  With his pipe and his trilby, Allam really does seem to have stepped right out of the time period.  He brings terrific gravitas to his role, as the no-nonsense, unflappable World War Two vet who gets the job done.  I will pay him the highest compliment of saying I can't envision anyone else in the role now.
Allam had what I think was rather a thankless role in what seems to me the poorest of the later Morses, Death Is Now My Neighbour (1997), so it's nice to see him with a really good part in the newer series.  As Detective Thursday he rather reminds me of Albert Finney, which surely is a good thing.

Watch out murderers! Morse and Thursday are on the beat.

I'm not surprised Endeavour was a great success and that a full series is under way. I very much look forward to how it develops, as should any old fan of Morse or any fan of good detective series television in general.


  1. I really want to catch up with this episode as I missed it when it was on TV. I liked Inspector Morse v much and initially enjoyed Lewis although the plots have got more and more ludicrous. My mother's surname was Evans so perhaps we are all related ;-)

  2. Long lives Evanses! I've always meant to read the Rhys Bowen series set in Wales, because the detective hero is an Evans (Evan Evans, no less). And of course there is Agatha Cristie's "Why didn't They Ask Evans?"--you must admit a good question!

    I think Endeavor is definitely required viewing for anyone who liked Inspector Morse. The latest Lewis season actually had less ridiculous plots than some of the last few seasons and I enjoyed it, but I never felt it really rose to greatness. I really like the relationship between "Robbie" and Hathaway though.

  3. I loved this too. Thought it was very well done. A nice surprise as I wasn't sure - like many of us - what to expect. The cast is perfect, I think. I am especially taken (as you are) with Roger Allam. The Brits are so good at these sorts of things, finding the right actor. He is wonderful. But I also like Shaun Evans as Morse. Wasn't the scene in the car when he's staring into the rear-view mirror wonderful? Wow. I really did get misty.

    I'm glad as well that this is going to be a series.

  4. Yvette,

    Yes, loved the rear view mirror bit! I didn't think I would like Shuan Evans in the role, but really got to like him (I completely forgot that he was in "Being Julia" with Annette Bening).

    Roger Allam was a pleasant surprise, I think he will add a lot to the series.