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Young Morse is more melancholy than ever

ENDEAVOUR (UTV/ITV, Sunday) HHHHI

INSPECTOR DE LUCA (BBC4, Saturday) HHIII

Just like the original Inspector Morse, Endeavour, the 1960s- set prequel starring the intense Shaun Evans as the younger version of the detective, has always been as much about the characters as the crimes.

Yes, there's inevitably a grisly murder or two, sometimes more, and the killer or killers are always nailed at the end of a story so twisty and labyrinthine it often defeats the efforts of even the most seasoned murder mystery fan to figure out whodunnit and why.

But it's really Morse – the melancholy, crossword-solving opera-lover who usually stumbles before reaching the correct conclusion and is almost always unlucky in love – that keeps you watching. He's the beacon of darkness in an Oxford of dreaming spires and lush green lawns.

It was a wise move, then, for the producers of Endeavour to hire Kristoffer Nyholm, director of Danish phenomenon The Killing, to helm the first of four new episodes. His sensibility added a chilly slant to the material. It was perfect for an episode that found Morse grappling with a crisis of confidence. His superiors were grappling too, as concerned as he was about his fitness for the job.

haunted

He returns to full duty grieving after the death of his father and haunted by the near-fatal shooting that put him out of action for four months. DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), who's developed into something of a protective father figure to Morse, is worried "the light has gone out" of his partner.

Even the ferret-like Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser), who's never been enamoured of the impulsive young copper fond of jumping to outlandish conclusions (even if they usually turn out to be right), seems to have softened towards Morse.

They're right to have doubts. Although outwardly as confident as ever, inside Morse is a mess. The sound of a glass being broken or a car backfiring makes him jump. The former teetotaller is drinking heavily too. "Booze can be a good servant, Morse, but a nasty master," Thursday warns him. Over a pint.

This is the real joy of Endeavour – watching writer Russell Lewis, who's penned all the scripts so far, basically reverse-engineering Colin Dexter's character and rebuilding him from the ground up, layer by layer.

Aside from the drinking and the wild leaps of logic – and plenty were required in a satisfyingly dense plot involving three murders, a missing persons case, a by-election, a beauty queen, stolen treasure and a masonic lodge – there was a tentative hint of romance between Morse and the nurse who lives across the hall. We all know from Morse's past, or rather future, experiences that this probably won't end well.

Endeavour would be an empty homage without the splendid performances of Evans and Allam, whose relationship foreshadows that of Morse and Lewis. Excellent.

There was also plenty of darkness in BBC4's latest Saturday night import, Inspector De Luca, starring Alessandro Preziosi as an honest cop trying to pick his way through the political minefield of Mussolini's Italy. Unfortunately, it's the kind of darkness associated with falling asleep.

There's a reason, I suspect, we're seeing this only now, five years after it was made: it's mediocre. The idea of a detective working under a fascist regime has been done before, in the novels Fatherland by Robert Harris and SS-GB by Len Deighton.

The setting and period trappings, though reasonably well recreated, added nothing to what was essentially a bog standard murder mystery. E4's acquisition of Swedish thriller Mammon on Friday nights suggests other channels are starting to beat BBC4 at its own subtitled game.


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