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One of my favourite characterisations by any actor or actress in any medium is that of Inspector Morse by John Thaw. I grew up with him in a very real sense. The first Morse episodes were broadcast in the late 80s, just as I was starting to get interesting in television beyond cartoons. They continued all through my growing up. Sometimes I watched them with my Granny, other times with the rest of my family. I will not claim to say at eleven or twelve I always followed the stories especially well, but even then something about John Thaw’s portrayal of the somewhat irascible Chief Inspector drew me in.

Recently members of my family have been giving me the various Morse DVDs as birthday and Christmas presents, and along with these this summer I was given the DVD Endeavour, the Morse prequel. Given the history I have with Inspector Morse it is fair to say I approached Endeavour with a fair amount of trepidation – what would they do to my beloved character?

Well, I need not have feared. Shaun Evans’ depiction of Morse as a young man works – and works because there is not too much of Morse in him yet. Oh there are signs – he loves his crossroads and his opera, but when we first meet him he does not drink. That comes later, where we also see his queasiness around bodies (a less-remembered aspect of his character) and the start of his love affair with a Rolls-Royce. This is also a man with rough edges, yet to be worn down a little by the grindstone of life. This is perhaps most pronounced in his manner. John Thaw’s Morse always had a sense of slowness about him, an economy of effort as it were in his movements (if not necessarily in his thoughts). In contrast this young Endeavour is at times almost jerky with nervous energy as his thoughts whirl around in his head. In essence he does a very good job of portraying a realistic version of a young man who might one day become.

The story itself is pretty good too. It presents a jaded, if believable view of the world of the 1960s and the policing of that time. The young Endeavour is part of an investigation into a missing girl. Roger Allam plays Endeavour’s boss, Inspector Thursday, with aplomb with a motivation that is easy to understand. Here and there throughout the tale you get glimpses of a society entering a state of flux – as of course happened to Britain in the 1960s.

Ultimately I very much enjoyed myself. ITV has shown itself adept at extending the Morse legacy with the Lewis series, and now I think they have shown the same in this initial view of Morse as a young man. I read that more episodes are planned, and I look forward to them.

Of course, I watched this as someone wanting to be convinced. Someone who has never watched the original Inspector Morse, or for whom it did not have such a large impact may view it differently, but I would rate this a very solid 4.5/5.

 

Recently I had a chance to watch the TV Film “Ghostboat” that was shown in two parts on ITV3. When I saw the adverts for the first episode my interested was piqued for two reasons – the first was that it is set on a submarine, and secondly that the lead actor is David Jason.

Have you ever read a series of books, in which the last of the sequence just didn’t quite live up to the standards of the earlier novels? Ghostboat was designed to be broadcast in two episodes, and it just feels that the first episode received more attention than the second. I wonder if this had something to do with the fact the first episode has to sell the second episode, whereas the second episode doesn’t have a similar need – just as the first book in a series should make you purchase the next one and so on, but the final book no longer has that imperative. This felt a little like that.

The plot is simple enough. It is 1981, and a British World War 2 submarine suddenly surfaces. It is in pristine condition. The submarine disappeared back in 1943 in the Baltic, and there was only one survivor – Jack Hardy (played by David Jason) who had complete amnesia of the last week or so of the patrol. Now a mission is formulated to take this submarine back into the Baltic, retracing the route of the earlier voyage, to try to work out what happened … and stuff happens on the way. A large part of the story is how Jack, whose mental state is not the most stable, reacts to all the journey and to the changes that take place.

There is a touch of the supernatural to this film, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it horror – more suspense. There is alot of “stuff” that never gets fully explained because the characters do not understand themselves what is going on. I rather like that approach. The film also has a claustrophobic element since, apart from the first portion of the movie, it is almost entirely set in the confines of the submarine in question.

The submarine set is actually quite a beautiful thing if one likes submarines, and very much has the “feel” of a world war 2 submarine. Somewhat prettier perhaps than Das Boot, but that more or less fits within the story. On the other hand, the routines of daily life on a submarine are far from authentic. You do not need to know a great deal about submarines to have to fairly dramatically suspend disbelief. One rather suspects the screenwriter decided it was just not important.

This leads me back to my first point, in that likewise I think it is quite clear more care was taken on the first portion of the story than the second. The first half, or episode, is quite a well put together piece of film with a nice overall pace. In the second half/episode things just start to fray at the edges. The sense of timing is no longer quite there, the lines seem a little looser, and all in all it just does not quite “click”.

David Jason was very good in the role of Jack Hardy, and I think he played the part of someone with considerable mental fragility under strain very well. Indeed, if this story were told slightly differently one could quite easily be tempted to think it was some sort of dream or hallucination on his character’s part.

Apparently it is based on a previous novel, and I wonder if maybe some of those weaknesses relate to the original work. Despite its shortcomings however I enjoyed watching this story. I do wonder what perhaps it might have been with a little more care and attention and/or more money behind it. However, at the end of the day it is what it is – a tv film that does not pretend to be a way to be entertained for a few hours in an evening. In that role is succeeds admirably.

Last night I watched my recording of Michael Wood’s new historical series. I am generally terrible at watching television series of any stripe, and the only reason I managed to watch this was thanks to Sky+ (and the only reason I will get to watch subsequent series is thanks to Series Link). I had high hopes for this, as I really do like Michael Wood. In fact it was one of Michael Wood’s earliest series (In Search of the Trojan War) that got me first interested in history, and I have never looked back.

The first episode at least did not disappoint.

A few obvious things – this series is clearly taking the opportunity to reflect on British history and the British people in the lead-up to the Diamond Jubilee. It is also occurring quite fast on the heels on The Story of England, which looked at the history of England through the lens of one English locality – and no doubt it is similar – but unlike the Story of England does not restrict itself to just one area of the country. It is also very much a general history. I have read some negative comments about this – but a series of this nature is only ever talking about history in large sweeps. That means one can always find it lacking on details. In a sense therefore myself and other history buffs are not the target audience.

Except we should be.

The series is called “The Great British Story“. I do not think that word is accidental. Modern history began, quite literally, in the public spaces of Athens and other Greek cities as Herodotus declaimed his Enquiries. The Greek word became our word History. Herodotus was Enquiring about the recent history of his own times, the wars between the Greek city-states and the Persian Empire. All history is of course an enquiry, if only to answer the question of “What happened here?”. Herodotus was also telling a story. Storytelling is a very powerful historical technique, and I think the truest method of conveying the past. To be sure there is a place for technical academic articles discussing in fine details one point or another. There is no excuse for poorly written ones however that cannot link the sometimes dry facts with the wider historical narrative.

Narrative – another word to do with Story.

You don’t have to spruce history up to tell a good story – quite literally the history of humanity is full of the greatest stories (alas, for too many are untold). You just have to let the history do the talking. Michael Wood is excellent at doing this.

Michael Wood is also very keen on drawing links between the past and present. This tendency was evident right back in In Search of Trojan War, and it has become more and more pronounced with time. It is not for everyone.

With all that I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I didn’t learn anything “new” in terms of major events – but then I never expected I would. The story was also simplified, and if one is of a picky disposition one could claim this makes errors (but in a general overview, this is unavoidable). That said, there were a few details about recent excavations and discoveries that I hadn’t heard about.

What stood out most though was how Michael Wood wove the very complicated strands of British History in the first five or so centuries of this island’s history into an interesting tapestry. I am sure his great hope is that he will spark the imagination of some of his viewers to find out more. He had that effect on me more than twenty years ago, and yet, this one episode already has me itching to pick up another history book and find out yet more stuff about us.