INSPECTOR MORSE SET ELEVEN: WENCH IS DEA
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Death is Now My Neighbor: Two Oxfordshire village neighbors are murdered, clues link their unseemly demise and a bitter contest for the new Master of London College. Lurid: heavy on destruction and bad choices. But Morse finally finds romance. And you'll finally learn Morse's first name!
The Wench is Dead: Facing his own battle with the Reaper, admitted into hospital after a sudden collapse, Morse attempts to solve a murder from 1859, when a young woman's body was found in the Oxford canal. Men were tried and hanged for the crime, but Morse, from his hospital bed, re-opens the case. He thinks the convicted men were actually innocent. A young Constable delves into archival dust to unearth more clues, while Morse applies his enormous powers of deduction to the case. Meanwhile, he's pressured to retire from the force. A fine mystery indeed!
The Remorseful Day: This is the conclusion to the series, the final challenge of our admirable and thoughtful Inspector Morse. Morse and the intrepid Sergeant Lewis, wonderfully played by Kevin Whately, are joined again by Dr. Laura Hobson (the fine Clare Holman), while they research a year-long murder investigation after new evidence surfaces. Relish the many gifts actor John Thaw brought to his role, creating a deeply memorable character, and then see "Lewis," cited above, so you can continue to enjoy the treacherous environs of Oxford. In the last scene with Morse, Kevin Whately is simply exceptional as Lewis; quite moving.
This Set Eleven has three episodes. They originally aired as the last three of the Inspector Morse annual Specials.
Death is Now My Neighbor - first aired November 1997
The Wench is Dead - aired November 1998
The Remorseful Day - aired November 2000
DEATH IS NOW MY NEIGHBOR:
It's a bright April day. The milkman's truck pulls onto Bloxham Drive and a row of semi-detached houses. He leaves bottles on the step of #17 for Rachel James, who is greeted by her neighbor at #15, Jeff Owens, just leaving in his little sports car. As Owens drives away, he waves to another woman in the same row, who gives him a decidedly sly look. 7:20 AM: Rachel is shot through her kitchen window at the back of the house, and spilled milk pools on the floor around her dead body.
Chief Superintendent Strange is affected by the killing, and expands on the difficulty of retiring on the pension he's allotted: "Don't you ever get sick of it, Morse? Spending your entire life on shootings, stabbings, stranglings..." Morse interrupts him, "Work! That's the secret of life!"
Elsewhere, Shelly and Denis Cornford are getting ready to face the day. The college has a big meeting this morning. Sir Clixby Bream is going to retire as Headmaster. Denis and Julian Storrs are the only real candidates. Bream starts the meeting: "A straight fight like this sadly gives little opportunity for horse-trading. But malice and spite are gratifyingly increased by the fact that you know the candidates so well." It's not just the words. It's the chillingly malicious way this awful spider of a man speaks. I found myself hoping Bream's would be the next body.
The second woman Owens waved to was Adele Cecil, and it seems I had it wrong. The sly look she gave him was not of flirtation, but of knowing friendship. And after Morse interviews her, he very much wants to see her again. It is in this episode that Morse reveals his first name, to Adele and Lewis in a delightful scene in a pub.
Trivia: This special was written by Julian Mitchell, based on Colin Dexter's 12th Inspector Morse novel. The book, first published in 1996, has the same name. It is also the first book where Morse reveals his name, and not until the final chapter. There are some significant differences between the book and the film. In the book, Morse is diagnosed as diabetic, which doesn't appear in the show. Colin Dexter's walk-on is the first time he speaks! He is the vicar saying the grace at the college dinner.
THE WENCH IS DEAD:
Morse and Chief Superintendent Strange are at an Oxford conference, where the lobby exhibit covers "Crime and Punishment in Victorian Times". Millie Van Buren, an American from Boston U, joins them at the exhibits, and talks about the most famous murder of the time, the 1860 Oxford Canal Murder. The victim, Joanna Franks, a respectable married woman, was murdered on a barge. When two bargemen were hanged for it, 10,000 people gathered to watch, coming from as far away as London.
Later, Millie gives a presentation about the murders. Morse, however, feels unwell and has to leave in the middle. In the bathroom, he starts bleeding from the mouth, eventually fainting to the floor. And ambulance takes him to the hospital. The prognosis is a burst peptic ulcer. Lewis can't visit, he's off on his Inspector course. Strange comes to visit, and broaches the very unwelcome topic of early retirement. Adele (from "Death is Now My Neighbor") comes to visit. They are an item, now, and it does my heart glad.
Last, but not least, Millie visits, bringing Morse a copy of her book, "Criminal Detection in the Victorian Period". Despite himself, he gets into the book and the story of the Oxford Canal Murder. And the more he reads, the more he suspects "that a gross miscarriage of justice occurred in the city in 1860." Stuck to his bed, Adele and PC Adrian Kershaw do Morse's footwork. What really happened all those years ago?
Trivia: This special was written by Malcolm Bradbury, based Colin Dexter's 8th Inspector Morse novel of the same name, published in 1990. Dexter's cameo is where he is at the lobby crime exhibition at the beginning of the show.
While watching this, I immediately thought of Josephine Tey's 1951 "The Daughter of Time", a book I've read more than once with pleasure. (The daughter of time is truth.) Dexter has said his mystery was partially inspired by Tey's presenting of her historical puzzle. But Dexter's dedication, in his novel, is to Harry Judge, who introduced Dexter to John Godwin's "The Murder of Christine Collins". This true-life murder took place on a canal in 1839 (though not in Oxford).
THE REMORSEFUL DAY:
Letters are important in this episode. It starts with Yvonne Harrison, who works as a nurse, crying at home over a letter. She tucks it away after she hears a car drive up to the house. And later on, Morse gets a letter. It's from Adele. She's staying in Australia and it's for the best... and so on. Morse seems too sad to cry. Or too tired to cry. Too sick? He certainly hasn't started taking care of himself, and will not give up the pint that he needs to help him think.
But Yvonne isn't doing well, either. Her husband, Sir Lionel, comes home from a business trip to find her naked, tied to the bedstead, and murdered. The police find her hidden letter, and, unaccountably, Chief Superintendent Strange secretly takes the letter out of the evidence bag and locks it up in his desk.
Then there's a third letter, an anonymous letter received by the police, "You should of looked longer in the village to find out who done that nurse in. Yvonne Harrison, I mean. There's a bloke due out of Bulingdon on Friday. Keep your eye on him. A very close eye if I was you."
Lewis visits Morse at home to bring him up to speed. Morse is supposed to start back at full duty the next day (see the happenings of "The Wench is Dead" preceding episode), and he's only two months from retirement. There's a funny scene where Morse ineptly shows Lewis his new-found hobby, birdwatching.
I knew before watching this special the first time that it was the last Morse, and still I cried. I've watched it several times since, and still I cry. Morse collapses at his beloved Oxford, music soaring in the background. He solves the case literally from his hospital bed.
Trivia: This special was written by Stephen Churchett, based on Colin Dexter's 13th and last Inspector Morse novel, of the same name, published in 2000.
While Lewis and Morse sit on a patio, having a pint and watching the sunset, Morse quotes the last part of A.E. Housman's Poem XVI from "More Poems":
"Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day."
In "The Story of Morse", a 50 minute documentary special, John Thaw says, of Morse, "He envies him. Morse envies Lewis. He envies his certainties about life, and his certainties that he's going to go home and his wife is going to be there and his two children and his home and everythng that that involves is going to be there for him. Morse doesn't have that."
Colin Dexter can't give us any more shows now, the tremendous John Thaw died in 2002. But it sounds like he doesn't expect to anyway. In "The Story of Morse", Dexter says, "I've written quite a few plots. Quite a few short stories, 13 full length novels. I felt I'd almost said enough about the relationship between Morse and Lewis. And I think we'd killed enough people in Oxford, too. Eighty-one body count! In a way, it was time."
The final series is often sad and depressing as we watch his physical deterioration as a result of a lifetime of heavy drinking. Always unlucky at love, it seems that he has finally found his soul mate. But bouts in the hospital followed by prolonged convalescence force him to finally consider retirement. But he finds that prospect unnerving, especially when his soul mate goes to Australia and does not return. Meanwhile, Lewis is ready to move up as a Chief Inspector, and it appears that Morse might provide the slot. There are tense moments between the two where their long standing relationship is tested, as Morse becomes harder to tolerate. There is no happy ending, and Morse would not have it any other way, but there is closure. It's also comforting to know that the Inspector Lewis series ultimately followed, along with the Endeavor series depicting the younger Morse. But there will never be another Morse or John Thaw, and I consider myself fortunate to have witnessed each precious gem of an episode.
Can't imagine anyone portraying Morse better than the late, great John Thaw. He embodies the very essence of the character you find in the books.
If you enjoy well-written, literate mysteries, I HIGHLY recommend this and all the other sets of the Morse stories.