Monday, July 16, 2012

A Younger Morse

I wasn't going to watch this because, really, what would it be like? I suffered through Morse's death (and the real life death of John Thaw) and did I want to be reminded?

But PBS has the entire film for view on its website. So I took a chance and was rewarded with something really quite special.
For years we never knew what Morse's first name was as he was always referred to, simply, as Morse. But once we found out (near the end of the original series), we kind of understood his disinclination to reveal it.  It is an odd name though in some strange way, entirely appropriate.

The film is a prequel to the original series and it stars someone I am totally unfamiliar with, Shaun Evans. (Where do the Brits keep turning up these wonderful - and quirky - young actors? Never mind, where - how?)

It's a bit difficult to imagine Evans as the future Morse, but there is some vague resemblance. Close enough. Here he is an opera loving, gawky youth, a loner with a laser like mind and an ego to match.

In the story, set in 1965, we are treated to Constable Morse's first few awkward days on the job. We meet Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam), an honest cop who becomes Morse's mentor - more or less. (Though Morse is obviously the more brilliant of the two.) These two work wonderfully together - Allam is an especially likable actor. The rest of the cast isn't bad either. These things are always so well done, rarely a dud in the bunch.

Morse's first case is a difficult one. The disappearance of Mary Tremblett, a fifteen year old girl, later found strangled, her body tossed naked, in a wood. The police brass who are, themselves, under the thumb of a local, slimy, blackmailer (a car dealer, natch) would like the whole thing to go away.

Especially when it looks as if Mary's sad death and the 'suicide' of an Oxford student are tied together and may lead back to the university itself when one of the professors comes under suspicion of hanky-panky with the underage girl.

This particular professor happens to be married to the an opera soprano whom Morse idolizes. She has retired from performing and seems happy enough just to be a faculty wife. Morse is bowled over at meeting her and tells the story of how it was her sublime singing (most especially an aria from Puccini's Madame Butterfly) which taught him - as a child growing up in a bleak world - that beauty existed.

The entire story itself would fit the operatic mold of high melodrama, unrequited love, sex, death and destruction. Especially the very affecting ending.

Morse is shown to be as relentless and impatient when young as he was when we met him years later. He is devoted to the truth, no matter where it might lead.

My favorite scene: Morse is driving Inspector Thursday's Jaguar, the Inspector at his side. Thursday is talking about Morse's possible future. Morse looks in the rear view mirror and suddenly we hear the haunting sound of the original Morse music by Barrington Pheloung - just a little - and we see a familiar forehead and white hair in the mirror. It is an emotional moment.

I hope ENDEAVOUR becomes a series.

John Thaw


  1. Thanks for the great film review/heads up. You have officially piqued my Endeavor-y interest!

  2. You're welcome, Sparkle. I surprised myself with how much I liked it.

  3. Paul and I watched this the night it aired and really enjoyed it. We're big fans of Morse and Lewis, too, and joke about how someday there's going to have to be a Hathaway, as well. :-)

    I really liked both Shaun Evans and Roger Allam. Definitely hoping for more episodes!

  4. Yvette,

    Your wish has come true.

    Initially _Endeavour_ was to be only one episode, but shortly after it was telecast last January, the producers said that they had signed up to do four more shows. I suspect the audience response was strong enough to bring this about.

    I, too, have wondered about a _Hathaway_ series.

    They are filming the next episodes of _Endeavour_ now, and the shows will appear in 2013.

  5. Lauren, I'm just glad I got a chance to watch it at all. :)

    I too look forward to more and Fred has some good news for us!

  6. Great news, Fred! Thanks for letting us know.

    I'm positive audience response had lots to do with it. :)

    I haven't cottoned to Hathaway yet, but I'm sure I'm going to.

  7. Thank goodness for PBS — I'm currently enjoying Doc Martin movies.

  8. Well - I shall be intrigued to watch the proposed Endeavour series!

    However, that other Morse spin-off, Lewis, will be drawing to a close in the near future! here

    I love to sit down with a nice glass of wine and watch these two-hour dramas - we have the entire series of Morse as a boxed set!

    The locations are beautiful and familiar, being just a few miles from us, as also are the ones used in Midsummer Murders- another favourite! (don't know if any of you are familiar with Det.Insp. Barnaby?)

    Another one we use to watch was Dangerfield, based on a police surgeon/GP - all filmed in Warwick, up and down familiar streets near us!

    On a slightly different tack, did 'Heartbeat' ever make it across 'the pond'?

  9. I DVRd this but have hesitated to watch it. Like you, John Thaw was Morse and no one else could possibly be. But now I'm interested in watching the show.

    I agree about these amazing young British actors. And they don't seem to have the egos and thirst for trashy fame that the ones in this country do.

  10. I've been a long time fan of Inspector Barnaby and have seen, I think, all of the episodes so far, thanks to netflix and the public library.

    Actually I'm probably a season behind since two nights ago I just viewed Season 20 and watched Tom announce his retirement. I guess that the next episode will begin with Inspector John Barnaby in charge. That was a clever way to handle that situation. It would just never have worked putting a new actor in as Tom.

    It was sad seeing him retire but not as wrenching as what Colin Dexter did.

  11. Great review Yvette. This was screened on New Year's day in the UK and I also liked it very much. I thought Evans made it his own without impinging on Thaw's memory - and the nice little grace note at the end was a sweet, lump in the throat tribute. Also nice that they got Thaw's daughter Abigail in it to play the newspaper editor. Most importantly, I thought the relationship with Allam worked really well - as with LEWIS, which none of us would probably wouldn't watch without Hathaway. I'm not sirry that LEWIS is drawing to a close as I thought the last season, which just ended here, was perhaps it's weakest, despite the fine actors in the main roles. Presumably for the producers, as one MORSE spin-off exits, another begins ...

  12. Yes, Mark, I don't know what we'd do without PBS and, I suppose, British television drama. :)

  13. Sue, you are so fortunate to live just a few miles from Oxford - a dream city. Well, at least in my dreams.

    I visited once upon a time and somehow always thought I'd get a chance to go back.

    Maybe in another lifetime. :)

    I did visit Warwick, you know. I still have a teddy bear I purchased there. Went to Warwick Castle and such. We had such a lovely time.

    I think it's time for me to think about plunking down some cold hard cash for a boxed set of some of my faves.

  14. Joan, I think you won't be disappointed. They did an excellent job. The casting all around just works. As is usually the case with these Brit dramas.

    Let me know what you think if and when you do watch it. :)

  15. I stopped watching MIDSOMER when Barnaby retired. But I watched the heck out of the early series when it was available for streaming on Netflix.

    Alas, now it's gone back to DVD delivery only. Netflix keeps switching things around to drive us crazy.

  16. Sergio, yes, that 'lump in the throat' moment was really moving. It's funny how much emotion we all have invested in certain fictional characters. :)

    I think the fact that John Thaw too died of a heart attack confuses the issue too - at least in my mind.

    I didn't know about his daughter being in the cast. I'll have to take another look.

    1. I was aware John Thaw was suffering from cancer of the oesophagus - didn't realise he'd had a heart attack, like Morse. Strange, isn't it!
      I remember watching him in the 1960's in a series called 'Redcap' - about military police. Very young and fresh-faced!

  17. This was a terrific beginning for me. Lewis can be too plodding for me--unlike the MORSE series but this one seemed to capture the earlier charm.

  18. Maybe I misread the information, Sue, maybe it was cancer. Still, I was well and truly shocked at his passing.

    Kind of like having Morse die twice. Know what I mean?

    Thaw was born to play Morse.

    1. Well, we've just attacked the Morse set for our evening's entertainment - 'Dead On Time' - thanks for the nudge, we'd probably have spent the evening trying to decide what to watch! ;-)

  19. Patti, I think I agree with you. I haven't really watched many of the Lewis shows, but yes, I immediately knew what you meant.

  20. Just to pick up on Sue's point, John Thaw definitely died of cancer not a heart attack. Hos widow Sheila Hancock has written about it very movingly in her two books about him, THE TWO OF US and JUST ME.

  21. Sergio, I usually don't read books by widows about the death of their husbands simply because I can't handle the sadness. BUT, I didn't realize that Thaw's widow had written a book. That might be the exception that breaks the rule for me.

    I'm sorry I got the details of John Thaw's death wrong.

  22. I would be too sad to read Sheila Hancock's books.

    However, to upset the apple cart and add to the mix here, my favorite British PBS Mystery series is Foyle's War. I love Michael Kitchener and the plots.

    Good and sometimes socially conscious, too.

    I wish these were rerun again, but the library may have them.

    I'm getting tempted by Netflix, but these changes are kind of putting me off.

  23. kathy d,

    I too am a fan of _Foyle's War_, one of my favorite series. In fact, I just finished watching it for the second time last year.

    I got it from the public library where I live, in Tucson. The library has all six sets, so I get it there, even though I'm on netflix. It's easier to get a packet with four or five episodes at one time than to have to wait for them one DVD at a time on Netflix.

  24. Kathy the Netflix streaming service is only about 8 bucks a month. In my view, it's definitely worth it if you have the 8 bucks to spare.

    I love Michael Kitchen too. Did you see him in ENCHANTED APRIL?

  25. Fred, I watched all the episodes the first time around on PBS when I used to have cable. I dropped all that when my bill reached almost 70 bucks a month for standard cable. No thanks. I do without tv, so rely more on my computer and on the library as well.

    Yes, I agree with you both, FOYLE'S WAR is a definite must see.

  26. Yvette,

    I also stopped watching TV, so I get the interesting stuff (free from commercial breaks) from either Netflix or the library or occasionally from friends.

  27. "The entire story itself would fit the operatic mold of high melodrama, unrequited love, sex, death and destruction. Especially the very affecting ending."

    So true!


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