Endeavour review – whodunnit

From The Times

Endeavour review — Morse beats Vigil in the clash of the whodunnits

Shaun Evans was spreading it about a bit last night, appearing on BBC1 and ITV simultaneously. If you prefer your Evans bearded and gussied up in naval uniform screaming at DCI Amy Silva, “Everyone on this boat thinks you’re deranged!” (she’s irritating, I’ll give him that), then Vigil is for you. If you prefer him with Seventies sideburns, a bad suit and a growing fondness for booze, yet still managing to solve all of Oxford’s murders, then you’re better off with Endeavour.

That would certainly be my preference, even though the plot was needlessly complicated, trying to interweave shades of the Cecil Rhodes controversy at Oxford, racism and match-fixing in football, plus a touch of terrorism. It was busier than the pattern on a 1970s carpet. Spoilers ahead! Some of the characters were Beano-cartoonish, such as the two-dimensional villainous football agent and the dodgy master of the college, while Anton Lesser’s Chief Supt Bright now looks so frail he reminds me of young Mr Grace in Are You Being Served?

But, dammit, it still made me cry at the end. Morse remarked that no one ever chose him for sports teams at school, and the wonderful, peerless Roger Allam as DCI Fred Thursday replied, “I chose you,” and then the lovely theme music piped up. Oh, Fred.

I will forgive any drama that incorporates Eamonn Andrews (not the real one, obviously) and This Is Your Life, which Endeavour did, quite comically, with Fred saying that Andrews wasn’t as tall as he looks on the telly. The bomb at the beginning was well filmed, although that poor secretary didn’t get much of a part.

The 1971 Morse is rather more subdued after the sad events of series seven, taking increasingly to his hip flask and with hair like a ket-wig. The footballer stuff, with the star player from Northern Ireland enjoying womanising and drinking, felt like a faint homage to George Best, although the murder in the team bath was pretty silly. It doesn’t matter, though, because watching Endeavour is like swaying in a soothing hammock of nostalgia. It’s (almost) never two hours wasted.

I’ve realised why I find Vigil weak, despite its strong premise. It’s a thriller without thrills, a drama without any real sense of drama even though it takes place on a nuclear submarine with the Russians and Americans sniffing around. I don’t feel any real sense of suspense or connection with the characters, including our heroine Amy (Suranne Jones), who last night was attacked at the end by someone wearing a gas mask (at least it might stop her getting in the way when there’s an emergency drill. Sheesh, woman, it’s not always about you).

It did improve (finally!) with the suggestion that the crew are trying to gaslight Amy, telling her that she is unwell and imagining things. There’s also the juicy possibility that the cook might be an on-board saboteur. Fishily, her son, who was serving a ten-year drugs sentence in an Indonesian jail, has just been let out after one year. Sadly, the poor old cook won’t be there to meet him since she appeared to have met a sticky end, still wearing her chef’s whites. Or maybe Amy just bored her to death.