Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Review - Endeavour: The Origins of Inspector Morse

John Thaw would have celebrated his 70th birthday today, if cancer hadn't claimed him ten years ago. He played many great roles during his career, but it was his portrayal of grumpy Oxford detective Inspector Morse that earned Thaw two BAFTA awards. Last night Morse lived again on TV, with a new actor in the iconic role.

Endeavour told the story of Morse's first case as a policeman in Oxford during 1965. [I won't spoil any plot details, the show's out on DVD next Monday if you missed it.] Creating a prequel to such a beloved TV series was a big ask. Many Morse enthusiasts were vocal in their online protests before the one-off special aired.

So, did Endeavour do justice to Morse? My snap judgement is a resounding yes. Shaun Evans was a revelation as the young DC Morse, capturing the essence of Thaw's portrayal without attempting to mimic it. It's a terrible cliche, but he really did make the part his own, an utterly convincing performance at every level.

The supporting cast was just as strong, with Roger Allam gruff yet warm as Morse's new boss. DI Fred Thursday was an intriguing character, rooting out corruption and graft while ready to administer rough justice and break the law to get a result. You could imagine how his unorthodox methods would influence Morse's future attitudes.

The Russell Lewis script was a winner for me, full of red herrings and misdirection. Having enjoyed the Morse spin-off Lewis, I felt the writing on Endeavour was better. Perhaps it was the halo effect of rediscovering Morse afresh, with the added novelty of a period setting, but the result was more compelling than recent eps of Lewis.

Production values were lush, as you'd expect from the Morse stable, with Barrington Pheloung's achingly poignant score providing one of many threads from the original TV incarnation to this new upstart. The period detail was exquisite throughout, and Colm McCarthy's direction brought the best out of both places and performers.

I've no idea what John Thaw would make of Endeavour, either as an idea or in its execution. The moment when DC Morse looked in the rear view mirror and caught a glimpse of Thaw looking back at him was risky. It could have been mawkish and crass, but didn't feel that way - at least, not to me. A worthy salute.

UPDATE: Overnight ratings for Endeavour are out. According to Digital Spy, ITV1's Endeavour guided the channel to primetime victory, averaging 6.51 million viewers (26.9% of the viewing audience) from 9pm (including more than quarter of a million views watching it on the time-delay channel ITV+1. That's not a huge number, but it trounced perennial favourite David Jason in part 2 of The Royal Bodyguard on BBC1, which lost more than 2.5 million viewers thanks to competition from Endeavour. I've little doubt the final, consolidated ratings for Endeavour will be much higher when they're released in a fortnight. I'd be utterly amazed if the show does not get commissioned for a series of three or four new stories to be shot this year for broadcast early in 2013. On the strength of this one-off special, Endeavour thoroughly deserves a longer run on our TV screens.

David Bishop, author of The Complete Inspector Morse
New edition [including Endeavour preview] on sale now in the UK and in the US.


Tom Murphy said...

I reviewed Endeavour for Orange here, largely coming to the same conclusions as you.

I wasn't quite as convinced by the flash of John Thaw in the mirror, though: it seemed to detract from Shaun Evans new 'ownership' of the role - especially coming at the end, by which stage any remaining viewers had clearly voted with their feet and accepted Evans.

Matthew Rees said...

I loved it too, and much more than Sherlock that I found a little smug in it's own cleverness. Endeavour hit all the right spots with mood, pace, plot and characters. Definitely want to see more of it.