Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Endeavour: A suitably subdued origin for Morse

I'm a big fan of the Morse novels by Colin Dexter, and of course the iconic TV version starring John Thaw in the lead role as our Wagner-loving, ale-supping hero, and thus it was with a little trepidation that I approached watching Endeavour the other night on ITV1.

Prequels are rarely much good, no matter how wonderful the source material is, but while this initial story for the young Morse felt a little slow in places, it did seem to capture a young Morse quite well in his formative years. The little nods towards the man he would become in later life were a delight (such as the start of his love for pubs and driving Jaguars), and Shaun Evans put in a valiant performance as the young Endeavour Morse.

He got a lot of John Thaw's mannerisms down perfectly, but seemed a little too physically slight and vocally gentle to really capture Morse's spirit. He did well, but perhaps it's a case of a part being so ingrained in popular consciousness as being played by a certain person that no matter how good he is in the part, he will never escape being compared to the original. That's to be expected, but it's also a shame as he's a fine actor who takes the material here and puts in a strong showing.

At first I did feel like I was watching a mash-up of Sherlock and Heartbeat, but that subsided once the story did hit its stride. The main issues I had with this one-off special (which is surely being seen as a pilot for a series) lay in the pacing of the story and the script itself, which seemed a little stretched in the feature-length format.

There did seem to be a little padding here and there, but nothing that really spoiled it. The plot was classic Morse, especially once he started finding his feet with the officers he was assigned to work with and once he started picking out clues that literally everyone else missed.

Special mention must go to the character of Fred Thursday, played by Roger Allam. He's the perfect archetypal hard-boiled copper, complete with hat at a jaunty angel and a fine line in telling Morse to leave the room while he 'extracts' answers from potential villains. Allam clearly had a blast with the role, and Thursday's influence on the way Morse works in later life is clearly apparent.

It can't have been an easy production to write or make, considering how loved both the novels and the TV version of Morse are, but thanks to a largely strong script by Russell Lewis, it was a most watchable drama. I do hope it becomes a series and we get to see more of the cases that shaped the icon Morse would become.

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