Endeavour: The Complete First Series.
Created by Russell Lewis.
Starring Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, Anton Lesser, Sean Rigby, Jack Laskey, James Bradshaw and Abigail Thaw.
Newly appointed as ‘bagman’ to boss and mentor DI Fred Thursday, Endeavour Morse must navigate a minefield of police politics to solve a quartet of baffling murder mysteries.
After the resounding success of the first Endeavour film broadcast on ITV1 back in January of 2012 to mark the 25th anniversary of the very first episode of Inspector Morse, and called after its subject’s scarcely-uttered first name, this new “prequel” series of four feature-length episodes was commissioned, following a young (and pre-inspector) Inspector Morse on some of his earliest cases.
Set in Morse’s usual stomping-ground of Oxford, but during the charmingly and evocatively portrayed 1960s, Morse (Shaun Evans) is but a young Detective Constable heading out on his very first cases with his senior partner, DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). As part of the City police force, the young Morse must deal with suspects, victims, murders and murderers, as well as an overly-rigid Chief Superintendent (the ironically named Bright, played by Anton Lesser), a snarky and jealous colleague in DS Peter Jakes (Jack Laskey) studying for his Sergeants’ Exam, and a fair few damsels in distress, shrewdly observed by Thursday to be Morse’s weak spot- “a mile wide”.
The series is packed with solid dialogue, interesting and topical cases for the ‘60s (touching on missiles, mental health care, drugs and class wars between the “town and gown” divisions of Oxford, to name but a few) as well as refreshingly well-rounded characters and commendable performances from the cast. Shaun Evans is a revelation as the young Endeavour Morse: awkward, aloof and seemingly vulnerable but also resilient, hard-working and prodigiously-gifted at police work, much to the chagrin of many of his co-workers (he is Acting-Detective Sergeant a fair amount of the time). It is also perhaps to his advantage that as a relative unknown he can be completely immersed by and in the character of Morse. For stalwart viewers of Inspector Morse it is satisfying to see traits of the older Morse shine through in the younger Endeavour’s love of ciphers, beer, and opera (particularly important in one episode), as well as an unfolding of the events that led to his limp. Evans, however, has by no means done a “cut and paste” acting job as this Morse is his own interpretation, helping the series work just as well as stand-alone television for viewers such as myself with no previous Morse experience.
The well-regarded Roger Allam is given a fantastic part as Fred Thursday, clearly more of a mentor and father figure to Morse than either his real dad or a normal detective senior partner, setting up a wonderful partnership to be developed further with (hopefully) more episodes of the prequel series. Despite his brilliance it is always enjoyable to watch Morse so easily read by Thursday and reigned in if necessary, as he is a figure the young detective clearly respects and admires (Thursday utters one of the best lines about his young DC: “You’d find something suspicious in a saint’s sock drawer”).
As well as the series regulars, including a nice link to the original Morse John Thaw through his daughter Abigail, who portrays the Editor at the Oxford Mail, the inclusion of a young PC Strange (Sean Rigby) from the original series, and an oft-sarcastic pathologist Dr. Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw), Endeavour takes the time to properly develop the motives and personalities of its guest characters in each episode, leading to more satisfying and believable (if quite complex) conclusions. It also gives Morse many opportunities to show his utterly endearing human side- he certainly becomes “emotionally involved” in all of his cases, and when there is talk of his reasons for joining the police after leaving Oxford University without his degree, there is a maddeningly-vague mention of someone he “couldn’t save”…
A final note on Endeavour must mention the evocative music of Barrington Pheloung, who composed the music previously for both Inspector Morse and the spin-off Lewis, and who here introduces many operatic themes into his, quite frankly, majestic score to reflect the earlier tastes of Morse, as well as maintaining the famous Morse code signals for each episode’s close. The music’s quality really helps to demonstrate the effect a good soundtrack can have on a show’s emotional connection with the audience.
With Endeavour, ITV Studios are continuing a run of recent stand-out dramas and beginning to make their trouncing of the BBC in that particular department look like habit…