Inspector Lewis: The Point of Vanishing on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Inspector Lewis: The Point Of Vanishing © 2010 MASTERPIECE

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.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Foyle’s War: The Hide on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – Recap & Review

Image from Foyle's War: The Hide: Michael Kitchen as Inspector Foyle © 2010 MASTERPIECEThe Hide, the final episode of series VI of Foyle’s War aired on Masterpiece Mystery last Sunday. It was by far the best of the season.

It’s August 1945 and the Allied Forces are celebrating the end of the war in Europe and the Pacific. However, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) has his own celebration. His replacement has arrived at the Hasting Police Station and he is now officially retired. First on his agenda; book a passage to the US to take care of the mysterious unfinished business alluded to previously. It takes only a newspaper headline to distract him away from his plans and straight into investigating another mystery.

A young solider from a prominent Hastings family has been accused of treason for participating in the British Free Corps, a group of British POWs who were recruited at the end of the war by the Nazi’s to fight for Germany against the Russians. Foyle questions the dejected James Deveraux (Andrew Scott) in prison, but he offers no explanation why he will not give evidence for himself in his court martial. Everyone around him is also resolved to let him hang including his defense attorney and his father Sir Charles Devereaux (David Yelland). Only Foyle believes that he has an ulterior motive for self-destruction and is determined to discover it. After interviewing James’ family, friends and fellow soldiers, Foyle finds an interesting connection to the murder being investigated by DI Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) in Brighton of Agnes Littleton, Sir Charles’ former secretary. Why did the killer remove the photo of her boyfriend Jack from her room and who is he?

Meanwhile, Adam Wainwright’s (Max Brown) Hill House, a crumbling residential hotel that he is running with Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) is riddled with plumbing problems and sinking in debt. It all seems a hopeless business until a local developer offers to buy him out. Sam sees it as a gift; Adam sees it as mercenary progress and goes to war with the city planners launching a local campaign to save his house and the Hastings village green from destruction. Their personal relationship is still undefined even though Sam is offering more than her share of subtle encouragement and Adam does not seem to know how to make his feeling known.

In the first scene we are given a direct shot of the murderer’s tacky shoes. My mother always told me that you can tell everything you need to know about a man by his shoes. ;-) Given that excellent bit of sleuthing advice, I admit to suspecting the killer of Agnes the moment he appeared in his first scene. Any man who would wear those shoes seriously lacked class and was clueless. With a bit of deduction of the male cast, this actor fit the bill. Why do writers and directors always cast weaselly types who appear unable of killing a fly in the role of the murderer? Geesh. Do they think these suspects are red herrings or something? After years of watching murder mysteries, I must be getting too good at detecting whodunit to be fooled.

I enjoyed Sam’s romance, or more appropriately lack of one. It seemed suiting to her straight forward personality. She’s not a romantic and did not bring that out in Adam. Foyle’s instant interest in James Deveraux and dogged pursuit of the investigation immediately raised my suspicions. We know that he was wrangled into being a DCS and faithfully fulfilled his tenure during the war, so only some important connection to the accused could possibly distracted him from his long awaited retirement and trip abroad. Personal connections are the ties that bind in this story and skillfully they are not all revealed until the very last. As ever, Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle was brilliant. Never has so much been said with so few words. Let’s hope that the series continues next year. If not, one of the best detective series ever has had its last hurrah.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Foyle’s War: The Russian House on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – Recap & Review

Image from Foyel's War: The Russian House: Michael Kitchen as Inspector Foyle © 2010 MASTERPIECEResurrected from the dead, Foyle’s War returned to Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday with The Russian House, the first episode in its sixth season in what may very well be its last hurrah. Since 2003 we have been entertained by the stoic Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) and his young entourage as they solve crime and uncover murder in the small seaside village of Hastings in East Sussex during WWII. As the plotline progressed and the war ended its British producer ITV thought it was finished as well and canceled the show. The public did not agree and a groundswell of support convinced them to attempt one more season. So, here we are two years later with three new episodes to savor while they last. For any who have not seen the first five seasons, you have a treat in store. Foyle’s War is the thinking man/woman’s mystery series with a superb cast, great production values and a parade of venerable British actors as guest stars. If this first episode is any indication of its continued quality then we can settle in again for some first rate crime drama.

The story begins three months after the surrender of Germany in April 1945. Britain is ready to move on and so is DCS Foyle who would like to retire and move to the US but must stay another month because of staff shortages. Samantha “Sam” Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) his driver during the war is working as a housekeeper of a famous artist, and DS Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) his former partner has been promoted to Detective Inspector for the nearby Brighton police force. When Sam’s employer Sir Leonard Spencer-Jones (Christopher Good) is found dead in his home DI Milner has several suspects, namely the deceased’s disinherited son Maurice (Tom Goodman-Hill), his disgruntled former gardener Tom Bradley (Tom Brooke) and Niko Vladchenko (Dimitry Drannikov), a young White Russian P.O.W. working at his estate. Meanwhile, Foyle has been asked by Brigadier Timothy Wilson (Tim Pigott-Smith) of the British War Office to locate Ivan Spiakov (Marek Oravec) a fellow Russian prisoner of Niko’s who escaped rather than face repatriation to mother Russia per the Yalta agreement between Churchill, Stalin and FDR. Why someone so high up in government should be concerned with one escapee pique’s Foyle’s suspicions. After Niko also runs off, Sam convinces Foyle to let her join him on Ivan and Niko’s trial to the Russian House in London, a safe house for anti-Stalinists. While there Sam meets Adam Wainright (Max Brown) an interesting and handsome young gentleman also staying at her hotel. Foyle becomes even more suspicious of Brigadier Wilson’s reasons for locating Ivan Spiakov as darks secrets surface about British and Russian post war prisoner exchanges. As always, Foyle’s perceptive instincts uncover Sir Leonard’s murderer back in Hastings and DI Milner is taken down a notch.

Image from Foyel's War: The Russian House: Anthony Howel, Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Actor Michael Kitchen’s underplayed acting can say more with one knowing glance or silent pause than most actors can relay with a whole speech. Few actors command this kind of attention on screen. Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood also come to mind. On the other hand, his sidekick Sam Stewart is the complete opposite. She is exuberant, unguarded and open, ready to express her opinion without reservation. This Holmes & Watson combination is what makes this series so successful. That, and the undercurrent of unscrupulous morality that permeates through out the plots. War is hell and things are done. Now in post Foyle’s war Briton we see deceit, deception and murder continue and flourish in new ways. The plot of The Russian House reveals the dark underbelly in history that always follows in the wake of war; governments scrambling to hide crimes, smooth over past indiscretions and get in bed with former allies even though they disagree with their morals. It can be as ugly as the battlefield and great fodder for a crime series. This clever story filled with dubious characters and intrigue did not disappoint. Where the plot will take us is in the next two episodes can only get better. Sam has a possible love interest brewing, Foyle is closer to moving to the US to take care of that mysterious unfinished business and DI Milner might just realize how much he learned in the shadow of the master. Miracles, and murder, can continue to happen as Foyle’s Cold War of the 1950’s approaches.

Images courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE