|Shaun Evans as Endeavour Morse. Pics: ITV|
ITV1, Monday, 2 January, 9pm
Story: 1965. A schoolgirl is missing in Oxford. A young detective constable is drafted in from the anonymous Midlands new town where he is stationed to help with the investigation because he knows the Oxford area. It is a case that will shape Endeavour Morse’s life and career.
He only ever used to be known as Morse, the detective finally revealing his christian name after Inspector Morse had been on air for 10 years in 1997. Now as everyone knows, Morse was named after Captain Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour and the moniker can be plastered all over this impressive two-hour prequel.
The much-loved original, which ran for 33 episodes from 1987-2000, starred John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as his sidekick, Lewis, setting the standard for UK police procedurals. Thaw died relatively young at 60 in 2002, and while Lewis, of course, is still with us, the temptation to resurrect Morse somehow was too good to let slip away.
Shaun Evans and Roger Allam
This much anticipated new mystery is a scandal on a suitably large scale, involving bent cops, murder and a corrupt government minister. The cast – including Shaun Evans as Morse and Roger Allam as his boss/mentor DI Fred Thursday – are actors who bring depth to the lead roles, and the period setting is understated. And for Morse fans, the hero’s background is fleshed out well.
The young Endeavour is called on to assist in an investigation into the disappearance of 15-year-old schoolgirl because he is familiar with Oxford, where he did Greats but didn’t finish his degree. DS Arthur Lott makes it clear to Morse and his fellow draftees that they are there to ‘take up the slack’, do the grunt work, and leave the detecting to him and Thursday.
|Morse and Thursday|
But Morse immediately stands out as a serious-minded detective with a questioning nature – which sets him at odds with Lott. It is Morse who works out that the missing teenager had a lover who was communicating with her through crosswords in the local paper. ‘Codswallop,’ says Lott, but Morse is proved right.
Fans will appreciated the crossword touch, which would also appeal to the creator of Morse and crossword lover Colin Dexter, now 81, who makes a Hitchcockian cameo in a pub garden. The drama is actually written by Russell Lewis, who has done a good job of embellishing the Morse story.
We learn how Morse got his taste for beer, classical music and the famous maroon Jag. Shaun Evans captures much of the character’s melancholia, particularly when the case blows up in his face and he develops an infatuation for the opera singer wife of a suspect.
John Thaw’s daughter Abigail
The production has so much of the original’s DNA in its make-up that several of the behind-camera crew had also worked on Inspector Morse, and there is even a role for John Thaw’s daughter, Abigail, who plays an employee of the local paper.
|Scandalous parties and cover-ups|
What begins as a missing person inquiry snowballs into a murder, a suicide and a scandal in which high-level politicians and policemen are attending sex parties with under-age girls. The story has a lot more grit to it than many of the originals or Lewis, and less of the chocolate-box obsession with Oxford spires and quadrangles.
Charlie Creed-Miles is the nasty spiv
Roger Allam is warmly authoritative as Thursday, the ex-soldier and solid copper who is willing to bend the rules to slap down spivs such as Teddy Samuels (Charlie Creed-Miles) and dodgy cops such as Arthur Lott.
It’s a sharp and inspiring tribute to Morse on the 25th anniversary of its very first episode. Surely, a series will follow.
Cast: Shaun Evans Endeavour, Roger Allam DI Fred Thursday, Flora Montgomery Rosalind Stromming, Harry Kershaw Miles Percival, Charlie Creed-Miles Teddy Samuels, Danny Webb DS Arthur Lott, Jack Ashton DC Ian McLeash, Richard Lintern Dr Rowan Stromming, Patrick Malahide Richard Lovell, John Light Dempsey, Abigail Thaw Dorothea Frazil, Michael Matus Brian St Clair, Emma Stansfield Sharon Vellie, James Bradshaw Dr Max De Bryn, Terence Harvey DCS Crisp