Inspector Endeavour Morse is one of favourite tv detectives. So I had mixed feelings when I heard the news that a prequel film was to be made to try out a new series of Morse adventures for when Lewis is pensioned off. I need not have worried as the care and attention devoted to detailing Morse's early years were as near perfect as this sort of show can be.
From the first moments when the kind of incidental music a young Morse should have starts up, the film did nothing wrong. We first meet Morse as a young and disillusioned man on the verge of giving up on being a copper, but a case involving all the traditional Morse themes of unattainable women, art and serial killing university dons keep him in the force and in Oxford. The premise lives or dies on the issue of whether the new actor is believable in a role that is nearly impossible to play. Shaun Evans has to be a young Morse, a young John Thaw, and be himself too. Somehow the actor achieved all that, despite looking nothing like John Thaw. There was just something about the intensity in his eyes as he watches everything and everyone while appearing both vulnerable and in control that made it work. The scene where he makes a terrible and embarrassing pass at a woman who he admires for her artistic ability was a painfully perfect depiction of everything that Morse, the person and Morse, the show is about.
This time round the young Morse is the sidekick to his boss and the choice of boss Fred Thursday is an excellent one. Roger Allam has appeared in Morse before, but this time he essentially gives his Supermac performance from series two of Ashes to Ashes. I liked him in that series and I was irritated he got killed off quickly, so I was pleased to see him again as he makes a perfect sixties copper, treading that difficult line between community policing and what would now be viewed as corruption. He got the tone right with his lecturing speech pattern and he even got to do some good old-fashioned policing with his fists. I was also amused by the fact that in Ashes to Ashes Roger Allam and Shaun Evans both played corrupt coppers and Roger had Shaun bumped off.
Also in the mix is a young Max, the pathologist, who is played perfectly by someone who is believable as a young Max. These links to the later series work well and in fact the whole episode was littered with references, including witty repeating of titles of Morse episodes. There's also hints at how Morse first becomes interested in his famous car, his first pint of beer, and the usual cameo from Colin Dexter. The only bum note for me, although I gather this was popular with viewers, was John Thaw passing on the gauntlet to his younger self. This felt unnecessary as John Thaw's daughter had already passed on the gauntlet in a perfect bit of fourth wall breaking dialogue with her moving line that she and Morse had probably met in another life.
That aside, the sixties were excellently depicted without any undue nostalgia or lingering tracking shots to show us the expensive sets. The story itself evoked the sixties nicely with links to a famous scandal of the day and amusingly one of the actors looked like, sounded like and dressed like Michael Caine playing Harry Palmer. The pace of developments was perfect with escalating tension and one of the best dramatic endings to any Morse episode. By the time Morse had become Thursday's bagman and the old Morse theme tune played over the closing title credits, I'd already started hoping that a series gets commissioned.