Friday, February 10, 2017

Endeavour: “Rocket” (Mammoth Screen, Masterpiece, ITV Studios, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched a rerun from 2013 of the quite good British TV series Endeavour, a spinoff of the Inspector Morse series featuring Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) as a young man working police cases in Oxford in 1965. While one doesn’t really believe that the rather callow Shaun Evans could grow up to be the dyspeptic, disillusioned recovering alcoholic and opera fan Inspector Morse John Thaw played in the contemporarily set (at least starting in 1987, when it debuted) series from which this spun off, the Endeavour stories have been interesting in that quiet, slow-moving, oddly polite way with which the British usually do mysteries. This episode was called “Rocket” and centers around the British Imperial Electric Corporation (referred to mostly as “British Imperial” or by the indigestible initials BIEC), whose owners are a long-separated couple named Henry and Estella Broom (Martin Jarvis and Rosamond Halstead). The Brooms have three sons — at least until one of them, Harry, died mysteriously — and the episode kicks off with a visit to the factory by Princess Margaret in 1965 to witness the production of the first “Steadfast” surface-to-air missile. The company has a deal to sell 36 of these to Crown Prince Nabil (Darwin Shaw, looking rather uncomfortable in a Valentino-style burnoose — I used to wish Yasir Arafat had dressed like that instead of wearing that silly kaffiyeh that looked like he’d made it himself from a dish towel, but maybe I was wrong) of the “United Hashemite Kingdoms” — i.e., Jordan, which is the only state actually ruled by Hashemite Arabs.

There’s a certain question about the guidance system which writer Russell Lewis mentions and then drops rather casually, but the main intrigue begins when a factory worker named Percy Malleson (James Merry) is found murdered in a closet off the factory floor, the killer having taken advantage of the distraction of Princess Margaret’s visit to do the deed unnoticed. Malleson is discovered to have had a stopwatch on him when he died, and the cops and the factory management instantly suspect he was there as a management spy doing time-and-motion studies to figure out ways to speed production, and this would have aroused the antagonism of the workers in general and the leader of the plant’s union, Reg Tracepurcel (Craig Parkinson), in particular. But it turns out that “Percy Malleson” wasn’t the victim’s real name; he was actually well-to-do enough to have shoes custom-made for him (there’s a marvelous scene between Morse and the shoemaker, a prissy old queen type, in which the shoemaker gives the background on his mysterious customer and adds with more resignation than bitterness, “He never paid me for them, you know”) and he turns out to be someone who fled to South Africa rather than be suspected of the murder of a girl who disappeared on the day of another Royal distraction, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2, 1953 (three months and two days before my birthday, and at the rate things are going and especially given how much longer-lived the Windsor women are than the Windsor men — Elizabeth’s and Margaret’s mother lived to be 101! — I’m unlikely to see another British coronation in my lifetime!).

Malleson fled to South Africa and hid out there for 12 years, then returned and took a job at British Imperial because he suspected one of the Broom sons was really responsible for killing the girl — it wasn’t known for sure that she was dead until the investigation of Malleson’s murder led to a search on the Broom property and the discovery of her remains — and in the meantime there’s another death on the British Imperial factory floor, worker Lenny Frost (Jack Roth). There’s also a rocket scientist who worked on the “Steadfast” who turns out to speak German — because before 1947 he was in Germany working on their rocket program at Pëenemunde — though this, too, is a plot line dropped by writer Lewis without so much as a by-your-leave. Eventually it turns out that the Broom boys are innocent of the crime and the real villain is [spoiler alert!] the union boss Reg Tracepurcel, who was having his own affair with the missing girl and killed her in a fit of jealousy or something. It also turns out that Morse has been dating one of the women who works in the British Imperial offices and pumping her for information, though she dumps him at the end (he’s got two tickets to the opening of Ingmar Bergman’s new movie but she backs out of the date — and of course writer Lewis couldn’t resist the old joke about Bergman, having one of Morse’s fellow cops say, “I thought she was cracking in Casablanca”) and it’s unclear what Morse does personally after that even though at least he has the satisfaction of having solved the murders. At least in the final sequence we get to see Morse do the two things the character is most famous for — listen to opera (not Wagner this time but “Va, pensiero,” the chorus of the Hebrew slaves from Verdi’s star-making opera Nabucco) and drink. “Rocket” wasn’t thrilling drama but it was a nice, quiet, relatively civilized British murder mystery with an interesting central “sleuth” character — even though he got a good deal more interesting when he got older!