Endeavour series 2 DVD REVIEW

DVD: ★★★★

Extras: ★★★

THIS may be sacrilege, but I prefer Endeavour to Morse.

I suspect much of Morse’s renown and popularity are down to John Thaw’s unforgettable portrayal of the gloomy detective, but the character never developed during all the years he was on air. This was par for the course during the series’ run in the late 80s and early 90s. But modern series that have story arcs – anything from The Fall to Broadchurch to True Detective – have shown how much richer series are that don’t stay on a loop of same characters, same investigations every week.

Endeavour, the 1960s-set prequel, has the advantage of showing Morse as he develops and changes, and writer/executive producer Russell Lewis has demonstrated his skill and empathy in taking Colin Dexter’s creation and fleshing him out cleverly. Each series combines the whodunit format with a story arc about the outsider detective, this latest series following his return to duty following the death of his father and his own brush with death after being shot, along with his romance with his neighbour, nurse Monica (Shvorne Marks).

Shaun Evans has been excellent casing as the too bright copper, and Roger Allam – as Thursday, who has his journey in this series – is a terrific co-star. The films from ITV are lovingly shot and have a fine period feel.

This complete collection of series 2’s four films – Trove, Nocturne, Sway and Neverland – also comes with a modest couple of added extras that should still delight fans. There’s a 10-minute feature called Creating Endeavour – The Next Chapter of Colin Dexter’s Legacy, and Spires, Ashtrays, Quads and Pastels, a short feature about the filming of the drama in Oxford.

RRP: £19.99, Certificate:12, Discs: 2, Running time: 360mins. Available on Amazon

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Britain’s Favourite Detectives on Channel 5

OK, pop pickers, it’s time for another countdown show and this time it’s to determine the nation’s favourite crime fighters. Channel 5 is devoting three hours to this trip down murder lane this Easter weekend (Saturday, 9.25pm).

The usual suspects will all feature, including Sherlock, Columbo, Morse, Poirot and Marple. There should be some fond memories and fun moments, such as Pierce Brosnan and Bruce Willis sleuthing debuts in Remington Steele and Moonlighting.

And of course the format demands plenty of talking heads chipping in – Lynda La Plante, Phil Davis, Una Stubbs, Felicity Kendall and Alan Davies included. So line up the Easter eggs on the sofa and get ready for the usual outrageous results.

My money’s on Rosemary & Thyme. Classic.

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Endeavour ITV, with Shaun Evans, Roger Allam PREVIEW

Jakes (Jack Laskey), Morse (Shaun Evans), Bright (Anton Lesser), Thursday (Roger Allam) in ITV's Endeavour
Jakes, Morse, Bright and Thursday in Endeavour. Pic: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: Sunday, 14 April, 8pm

Story: Margaret Bell, a young woman with a heart condition, is found dead. DC Endeavour Morse suspects that the death may not be down to natural causes, suspicions that bring the novice detective into conflict with his superiors.

Colin Dexter and ITV created one of the UK’s most popular fictional detectives in Inspector Morse and you can almost hear the intake of breath among viewers as this first prequel series starring Shaun Evans approaches.

A good pilot for Endeavour went out in January last year, immediately won an audience of 6.5 million and the series of four films was quickly commissioned. So, how good is Girl, the opening story?

Well, it blows Lewis away. Kevin Whately’s sequel is still popular enough but has fallen into a rut as a rather uneventful procedural with flat characters.

‘Queer fish, stand-offish, rude’
Endeavour is energised with protagonists who don’t just go round saying, ‘Where were you on the night of the 14th?’ Writer Russell Lewis uses his two-hour slot to flesh out the characters, particularly Morse, creating a precocious detective not much liked by his colleagues but mentored by DI Fred Thursday, played again by the excellent Roger Allam.

As PC Strange tells Morse, the boys think he’s a ‘queer fish, stand-offish, rude’.

A fine new addition to the ensemble is Anton Lesser, giving us yet another snake-like character, this time Chief Superintendent Bright (ironically named, no doubt), who is a stickler for plodding procedure and who feels Thursday has promoted Morse above his station. Bright is the kind of boss we’ve all encountered – an unoriginal thinker, bit of poser with his foreign phrases (‘tabula rasa’ etc), and a snob who refuses to believe Morse’s theories, such as his suggestion that a vicar may have been at the scene of a murder.

A coded brainteaser for Morse
Bright feels Morse should be investigating a series of gas meter thefts, which is where we meet him as the episode opens. However, when a young woman, Margaret Bell, who has a heart condition, is found dead, Morse starts to have suspicions that it may not have been down to natural causes.

He is further perturbed when the partner of Margaret Bell’s GP is shot dead. A bike found at the scene is, according to the young detective’s Holmesian deductions, probably the property of a left-handed vicar. Pillar of society Chief Superintendent Bright orders Thursday to eliminate known criminals before bothering the clergy.

But Morse traces the vicar, who on learning that the detective was in the signal corp and is skilled at cryptic puzzles, gives him a coded brainteaser to mull over. Morse’s digging soon puts him on a crash course with Thursday and Bright.

Shaun Evans, Roger Allam and Anton Lesser
It’s a convoluted mystery, involving an eminent physicist, the dead doctor’s troubled sister-in-law, Pamela, and a local trade in amphetamines. The sentimental obsession of these period dramas – here we get all the vintage buses, 10 shilling postal orders, and ‘something for the weekend’ banter from a barber – gets cloying after a while.

But Endeavour works on the strength of the drama between the principle characters and the performances of Shaun Evans – excellent as the cussed, dogged detective – Roger Allam and Anton Lesser. Morse’s battle to prove himself against all his doubters, finally deciphering the vicar’s clue at the end, is full of intrigue and drama, and gets Endeavour off a great start.

Cast: Shaun Evans Endeavour Morse, Roger Allam DI Fred Thursday, Anton Lesser Chief Superintendent Bright, Jack Laskey DS Peter Jakes, Sean Rigby PC Jim Strange, James Bradshaw Dr Max DeBryn, Mark Bazeley Dr Bill Prentice, Luke Allen-Gale Derek Clark, Albert Welling Wallace Clark, Olivia Grant Helen Cartwright, Sophie Stuckey Pamela Walters, Jonathan Guy Lewis Rev Monkford, Jonathan Hyde Sir Edmund Sloan

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Third Degree: Ann Cleeves

Award-winning British novelist Ann Cleeves is a serial crime writer, with her collections including amateur sleuths George & Molly, Inspector Ramsay, the soon-to-be-televised Vera Stanhope, and the recent Shetland Island Quartet. crimetimepreview pulls her in for questioning about her TV habits…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?

This is very tricky.  I loved Morse, but having watched those again, they do seem very slow.  I thought the recent working of Sherlock Holmes was magnificent – witty, fun and capturing the essence of the original.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?

I enjoyed the old series like NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street.  I’ve never watched The Wire, but everyone tells me I should.

Top TV cop?

Taggart – can’t remember the actor’s name [Mark McManus] but he was fantastic.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?

Martin Edwards wrote a series set in Liverpool with sixties song lyrics as titles and a solicitor hero.  I think Liverpool would provide a brilliantly atmospheric back-drop and Harry Devlin is a great character.

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?

One has – the Vera Stanhope books have been adapted for ITV with Brenda Blethyn as the hero – they’ll be broadcast in the spring.  I wouldn’t have considered Brenda as Vera but she’s magnificent.  I hear her voice in my head now when I’m writing dialogue.

If the Shetland books were filmed I’d like David Tennant to be Jimmy Perez.  He’s known for his manic energy but I think he could do intense stillness very well too.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)?

US Law and Order.  Absolutely bizarre plot lines.

Least favourite cop show/thriller?

Rosemary and Thyme.

Do you prefer The Wire or The Sopranos?

I haven’t seen either.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Holmes.  I really don’t get Christie.

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Absolutely the Swedish version.  The BBC film looked beautiful, but lost the sense of Kurt’s team, which is so important in the books.

US or British television crime dramas?

British, but only because I don’t know much about US contemporary programming.

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?

I love the Nordic writers – I’m chair of judges for the CWA International Dagger so I get sent loads of wonderful books. My favourite at the moment is Johan Theorin – wonderful!

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?

My favourite book is still probably Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier  (The Lost Domaine in translation).  I read it for French A Level and it’s romantic and a perfect book for an adolescent. I still find it moving and mysterious.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?

Fargo.  I love the snow.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?

Helen Mirren from Prime Suspect.

Ann’s Shetland Island Quartet of stories reached its climax with Blue Lightning, which is available in paperback. Hidden Depths, starring Brenda Blethyn as DI Vera Stanhope, should be broadcast by ITV1 in the Spring.

Ballots and bullets

We’re being asked to vote for a party of luminaries whose members hang round dodgy types, have the odd drink problem and have been said to habitually use cocaine.

But then who wouldn’t rather vote for a Holmes, Morse, Tennison or Foyle than the usual bunch paraded before us at elections.

The voting for the People’s Detective Dagger has just started, and fans of ITV’s top sleuths can endorse their fave on the website for the snappily named Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards on ITV3 in Conjunction with the Crime Writers’ Association.

It’s all part of the build-up to the 2010 awards ding-dong on Friday 8 October – the result of the ITV3 and the CWA joining forces last year – when the year’s top crime authors and novels are celebrated. The People’s Detective Dagger will be presented at the event.

To get everyone in the mood for voting, ITV3 is running a six-week season of new crime and thriller docs about the detectives and shortlisted books. Here’s the schedule:

Ep 1: Morse/Frost 9pm Thurs 2nd Sept/Mon 6th Sept

Ep 2: Marple/Tennison
9pm Tues 7th Sept/Thurs 9th Sept/Mon 13th Sept

Ep 3: Wycliffe/Barnaby 9pm Tues 14th Sept/Thurs 16th Sept/Mon 20th Sept

Ep 4: Rebus/Lewis 9pm Tues 21st Sept/Thurs 23rd Sept/Mon 27th Sept

Ep 5: Wexford/Foyle 9pm Tues 28th Sept/Thurs 30th Sept/Mon 4th Oct

Ep 6: Poirot/Sherlock
9pm Tues 5th Oct/Wed 6th Oct/Thurs 7th Oct

Personally, I think Barnaby’s got less the personal magnetism than Gordon Brown, and would much rather have a social drinker like Rebus getting the nod.

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