The wait is almost over. An encore episode of Inspector Lewis Series II The Point of Vanishing airs this Sunday on Masterpiece Mystery, and then Series III begins on August 29th, 2010 with Counter Culture Blues.
Oxford police detectives D.I. Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and D.S. Hathaway (Laurence Fox) are called to a death by drowning of Steven Mullan (Danny Midwinter) in his own bathtub. Nearby is a postcard of a Renaissance painting The Hunt in the Forest addressed to Mullan’s roommate Alex Hadley (Dougal Irvine) with “It was no dream” anonymous inscribed.
However, this does not appear to be an accident to Lewis. There are signs of a struggle and the victim’s face was marred with burns from the scalding water that he was immersed in. Mullan had recently been released from prison on drunk driving charges. Lewis recognizes the name and remembers the extended circumstances surrounding his imprisonment. After a life of drugs and crime, Mullen had turned to the bible in a big way, and in a drunken haze attempted to kill local celebrity atheist Tom Rattenbury (Julian Wadham) by crashing into his car. Instead, Rattenbury’s daughter Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) was behind the wheel and severely injured. In rehabilitation, she is now in a wheelchair.
Suspecting retaliation, the Rattenbury’s are the first to be questioned and each appear to have an alibi at the time of the crime. Tom Rattenbury was working at home and then took a drive later in the evening. His wife Cecile (Jenny Seagrove) was home planning their daughter Jessica’s twenty-first birthday party, and son Daniel (Ben Aldridge) claims also to have been home, and then later reveals he secretly met his girlfriend fellow student Hope Ransome (Zoe Boyle) and proposed. The family seems genuinely shocked by the news of Mullan’s death, Cecile dramatically claiming that despite the evil intentions of Mullan, and its tragic outcome, it brought her family closer together.
After attending a religious debate at the Oxford Union between Tom Rattenbury and his longtime academic opponent Dr. Manfred Canter (Michael Simkins), Lewis learns they were also rivals in love for the affections of Cecile many years ago. He is also surprised to witnesses Daniel throw a glass of wine at Canter who is also Hope’s art history tutor. When Daniel storms off in a fit of rage with Hope in hot pursuit, Lewis suspects that there might be more than art history between her and her tutor.
The investigation takes a complete turnaround when pathologist Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman) reveals that the victim Steven Mullan and his roommate Alex Hadley have much more in common than anyone imagined. With this new evidence Lewis and Hathaway delve into Hadley’s past life and discover an adulterous affair with Madeleine Cotton (Kellie Shirley), his boss’s wife. Could Marc Cotton (Tim Treloar) have killed Mullan by mistake?
Drawn again to the postcard of The Hunt in the Forest and the inscription “It was no dream”, Lewis and Hathaway visit the painting at the Ashmolean Museum and learn more about its allegorical meaning from museum curator Frances Wheeler (Susan Tracy). The painting is an early example of use of “punto di fuga” or the vanishing point in Renaissance art. The canvas depicts a scene of the hunt including people, horses, dogs and deer, disappearing into the vanishing point in the dark forest. The hunt is an allegory for the pursuit of courtly love – thus – a symbolic link to whoever sent Alex the postcard. She also reveals that the mysterious inscription is by poet Sir Thomas Wyatt, providing both additional clues and personal connections to the investigation. One additional murder and a suicide bring this case to a shocking conclusion, — the murderer only Lewis could have deduced.
Not one of my favorite Lewis episodes, The Point of Vanishing had me raising an eyebrow and rolling my eyes too frequently to take the script by Paul Rutman (Lark Rise to Candleford) seriously. The screenplay was filled with so many subplots, art allusions, heartrending twists and lovers unrequited, rebuked and or dumped, I began to crave the simpler scripts from Inspector Morse days. This is one of my pet peeves with new television and movies. Producers feel that they must keep everything moving at break-neck speed or viewers will get bored (one assumes). Unfortunately, at this pace important moments flash by without being absorbed and the pregnant pause is totally neglected. I realize this may be an artistic decision by director Maurice Phillips, and I honor that. I just don’t agree with it.
The guest cast was a potpourri of fine British actors and unknowns, making for a nice mix. Veterans Julian Wadham as Tom Rattenbury and Michael Simkins as Manfred Canter, the two rivals for Cecile affections and manipulations, were well cast and believable. I wish I could say the same for Jenny Seagrove whose Cecile was trite and overplayed. (“Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”) Yes, she was domineering and oppressive to her family, but again, way over-the-top. In my mind hardened characters are better played subtly. It adds so much power and mystery. Just think of Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs and you’ll get my drift. The highlight for me was with young actress Ophelia Lovibond as daughter Jessica challenged by her handicap and her mother. It was debatable which was the greatest deterent to her personal development! Lovibond underplayed the role and it worked to my liking, in complete opposition to her mother Seagrove. My point exactly!
And what was up with the secret romance between D.S. James Hathaway and his co-worker Fiona McKendrick (Catherine Walker – Northanger Abbey)? We see and hear so little about it that it does not play out well for the viewer. And the ending scene (which I will not reveal for fear of spoilers), why does he go back to her one last time? Why does Lewis think that is the best way to end it? Beat’s me? No wonder Hathaway wants to be celibate. All the women that the writers throw in his path are either cold, hard career crows or murderous transsexuals. I hear he gets a romance in Series III. Let’s hope he doesn’t get rolled over again. I’m not holding my breath. As Laura Hobson says to Robbie Lewis when she asks him his opinion of the relationship between their co-workers Hathaway and McKendrick, “It is the illegal trade in hunch and hearsay. It’s called gossip.”
For those of you who are curious about the line “It was no dream”, it is from the poem They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek written by Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 – 1542), reputedly composed after an affair with Anne Boleyn, the infamous wife of King Henry VIII. We are also treated to Hathaway reading a bit of it during the episode.
THEY flee from me that sometime did me seek,
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown did from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
And Therewithall sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”
It was no dream, I lay broad waking;
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served,
I would fain know what she hath deserved.
- Read my recap & review of Inspector Lewis: The Quality of Mercy
- Read my recap & review of Inspector Lewis: Allegory of Love
- Visit the Inspector Lewis website at Masterpiece Mystery PBS
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