23 April 2014 | robert-temple-1
Even better than Inspector Morse
This is a review of Series One to Seven of LEWIS (also known as INSPECTOR LEWIS). I never imagined that a sequel series could surpass the original (INSPECTOR MORSE), but this is what has happened. The stories, writing and direction remain of the same excellent quality, but it is the performances which really put the series over the top. John Thaw as Inspector Morse often overdid the querulousness and could be a bit irritating sometimes, which was meant to be part of his character. But now that he has the top job, Kevin Whateley as Lewis has really come into his own as a heavyweight actor of true stature. He has made Lewis into such a rounded and convincing character that he is more compelling than Morse ever was. (Perhaps this solidity of character is due to Whateley being a direct descendant of one of the three notorious Thompson Brothers, all of them Parliamentary colonels, of the 1640s and 1650s.) But even Whateley's superb acting cannot match the eerie and uncanny brilliance of Laurence Fox's performances as Detective Sergeant Hathaway. Rarely in a TV series has any actor created such massive complexity of character with such understatement and minimalism. Fox's work is sheer genius. One is tempted to compare Fox with John Hamm in MAD MEN (see my review), where we hang on Hamm's every silence, expecting him to speak, but when he does not, we accept the profundity of his silence as part of his secretive character and sympathise with him. This is very much the case with Fox, whose brooding internal life makes us concerned for him. The strong performances of Clare Holman as the pathologist and Rebecca Front as the Chief Superintendent are equally important in giving the essential fibre to the series to ensure its success. Holman's perpetual cheeriness is rather infectious, and all the more fascinating in that she shows it when inspecting corpses. This series (which will have a Season 8 before long) is a magnificent success in every respect. Dom Perignon all round! However, one does have a certain sympathy with the population of Oxford, which has been diminished by so many murders after all of these years that one wonders that there is anyone left alive in either town or gown. I noticed that there appear to be heavy filming restrictions in place, for in none of the episodes do we see the commercial district or the roads with the most traffic. I only recall seeing Oxford Market used once. We never see the High Street except for the small area at the end by Magdalen Bridge. Oxford comes across all glamorous and antique, and you would never suspect there were other parts of the town which are glum rather than glam. The Sheldonian appears to be everywhere, and every angle of that has been covered many times. Some of the colleges appear to have said no. I have never seen the quaint battlements of New College in an episode, for instance. We never see Magdalen's deer park, we never see the endless walks along the river, which are inaccessible to filming vans. In a sense, a mythical Oxford provides the backdrop for this series. But then, that strangely adds to the effect, for by creating the illusion of an Oxford that goes on forever but is really often the same locations shot from new angles, the illusion of endless murders seems only a natural part of the equation D = ME, where D is drama, M is murder, and E is episodes. It is clear according to this equation that the drama can increase linearly if either the murders increase, the episodes increase, or both increase together. No analysis has yet been made formulating an equation expressing the rates of increase, whether two murders per episode cause an acceleration of the heartbeat, and whether nonlinear phenomena occur, such as particularly shocking murders leading to quantum jumps, i.e. hearts skipping beats. I go to Oxford so rarely these days, but on one visit what did my wife and I see but Kevin Whateley getting in and out of his police car near Merton College as the cameras rolled, on the same side of the street as Anthony a Wood's house. Long may he go on doing so. And let us hope that some future edition of Athenae Oxoniensis includes John Thaw, Kevin Whateley, and Laurence Fox as worthies, which they clearly deserve.