|Index||4 reviews in total|
The "Inspector Lewis" series is an excellent "spin off" of the
Inspector Morse episode. Based upon the characters created by Colin
Dexter, the producers of this series, taking up after the inimitable
Morse died, literarily and literally, this is a welcomed "next step" in
British police procedural filmed mysteries (no one does it better).
The Morse episodes were always filled with a certain amount of class, certainly of the intellectual variety, and the Lewis series keeps the same motif. In "And the Moonbeams Kissed the Sea," the mystery (murder) involves, once again, the Oxford University academics, this time concerning some long lost letters by the Romantic Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley ("and the other members of the band" as Hathaway quips). What better (more academic) setting could one ask for than Oxford U, with scenes from the Bodelian Library. The plot line is complicated, but not impossible, and viewers are quickly caught up in the story. Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox are excellent as the detectives from the Thames Valley Police in the entire series and cameo performances by some of the top British actors (who seem to vie for a role!)add to the excitement, the entertainment, and the overall excellence. The periodic quips (comic relief) are well paced and well done. "Lewis" continues to work hard to stay up with the Morse episodes and so far, they get an A for their work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The screenwriter of this episode, Alan Pater (a prolific and
accomplished dramatist who wrote this in his 70s) deserves a lot of
credit for this very interesting study of creativity. But first: the
A professor of the Romantic Poets (man) and a professor of mathematics/probability (woman) both have a personal susceptibility to gambling and are associated with a kind of "alcoholics anonymous" program, but for gamblers. They become a couple. The literature prof. harbors an ironic resentment of the poets in whom he is an expert, because his life is drab and theirs were exciting. The math professor knows a vivacious, risk-taking art student, Nell, who among other things makes funky-looking necklaces; the math prof. typically wears one of them. Nell is also a performance-artist, who is known around Oxford for leading free "tourist tours" where she tells a series of fantastic lies about various Oxford landmarks and famous people, that tourists only slowly figure out are all fake and silly.
Nell shares a house with several other students, including a painter and drawer with an odd personality: he has excellent ability to paint and draw what he sees, but is unable to make things up -- to imagine. Nell likes to lead him around and tell him to do things, which he complies with; she has the imagination he lacks. One of the clever art projects they do together exploits the painter's talent at antique handwriting; they make obviously fake ancient documents, such as a grant application written by Shakespeare. Nell likes to read Romantic poets aloud, including Shelley. Another house-mate is a math student of the math professor, and he makes extra money by working for a betting-shop.
A down-and-outer engineer, his life ruined by gambling, is reduced to being a book-clerk at the Bodleian Library, which has original Shelley letters and many books from Shelley's time. He calls the "gamblers anonymous" hot-line and gets the math prof., who refers him to her boyfriend the literature prof. The student who part-times at the betting shop also gets to know him, and thus Nell hears of him. The two professors conceive a plan to get rich by taking a big gamble. The down-and-outer steals original Shelley letters and also cuts blank end-papers from books of the time, and passes these to the betting-shop boy, who passes them to Nell. She gets the artist to copy the Shelley letters onto the blank end-papers, and the fakes are then put into the Bodleian in place of the real ones. The math prof. then sells the originals to collectors. The two profs. then get Nell to expand the scheme, so as to "discover" a long-rumored but never-found cache of Shelley letters about his wife's famous novel, Frankenstein. They will sell these letters -- which will all be fakes, but on authentic paper of the day, done by the obedient, uncomplaining artist. When this scheme is in danger of being exposed, the profs kill first the down-and-outer (planting the murder-gun in the painter's room), and then Nell. The betting-shop boy flees in fear of his life. The profs. have no fear of the painter; he is so uncomprehending and detached that he has no idea what documents he has been making or any comprehension that fraud is going on -- he thinks it is all another art project conceived by Nell.
Thus we have the resentment of the uncreative (the literature prof) for the creative (the poets), the difference between talent without invention (the painter) and inventiveness without talent or judgment (Nell, who only thinks of herself and never of how her actions may upset other people).
When Nell's dead body is discovered, she is washed-up onto a river-bank, young, broken and bedraggled. The ending of the episode is at Shelley's Oxford death-monument, on which is a marble sculpture of him, washed-up on the beach (he died young, by drowning), sprawled in the same posture as Nell was on the river-bank. The painter sits before it, a lost soul -- "I wish I could make things up" he says.
And thus we realize that the literature prof., in killing Nell, was killing one of those Romantic poets of whom he was so jealous, and whom he so hated, yet whom he could not escape, because his livelihood depended on his being an expert on them. The fact that he could get rich only by forging their letters, and not via writings in his own name, further deepened his frustration.
This screenplay was one of Pater's last works, a fitting meditation on the fact that inventive people (as he was) are vitally needed in the world, but they must develop judgment, to sense the effects that their inventiveness may have on those around them. Nell's lack of judgment makes her the unwitting villain of the piece; she treated manipulating the painter as a game, and forging letters as just another art-project lark, but the literature prof knew it was a serious crime -- Nell got herself killed for not realizing in advance that she was playing with real fire.
I should add, I produced avant-garde theater and performance art for ten years, in San Francisco, so I have known some real-life Nells in my time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let's make no bones about it, I hated And The Moonbeams Kiss The Sea. And why shouldn't I? So many things are wrong with it I frankly struggle to count them. First of all the script written by veteran television writer Alan Plater returning after his first season contribution "Old School Ties". Whilst "Old School Ties" was far from outstanding, it at least had some tolerable character development and was of some interest, which compensated for the dull and predictable plot. "And The Moonbeams " is probably best described as "Old School Ties" with all the character development removed and the plot made even more pointless and dull. The characters are simply badly written, badly acted caricatures. Undoubtedly the worst is Neal Pearson's villain. There is no real sense of his motivation, no resolution to his character, and no empathy or anger at his crimes. He's just a really grey man. Whilst Plater may take some of the blame for this, the real culprit is actor Neil Pearson, who puts in one of the weakest performances as a villain in a crime drama full stop. The poor quality of the writing of the character may well account for Pearson's acting, but Michael Maloney's character in the pilot was also a criminally underwritten character with little to no character developments, and yet Maloney's performance manage to save the role and even make it quite nerve wracking. It is sad, therefore, that Pearson seems to be unable to accomplish sch menace. Perhaps he was trying to attempt a very subtle level of menace, but this comes across as downright laughable, and in fact robs Pearson's character (who, not surprisingly, I have forgotten the name of) of what little character he had in the first place. This is not to say, however, that the other actors are blameless. All of the regulars cheerfully sink to the lowest common denominator in their performances. Whilst Whately is probably the worst he has the unenviable task of convincing the audience that this is a complex murder mystery when in reality Lewis' microwave could probably have solved it. The remaining guest cast, with the possible exceptions of Haydn Gwynne and Tom Riley (neither of whom give particularly good performances but they carry their characters with just enough energy and pathos to make them believable) also fail to make much of an impact with their admittedly somewhat clichéd and annoying characters. They are not aided by Dan Reed's mediocre direction, which, aside from being criminally over-lit, drags the camera through a series of over syrupy panning shots and some frankly incompetent work with the actors (it is unclear what direction the actors that played Nell Buckley's house-mates received in their scenes indoors, but evidence suggests it was a cross between whiny toddler and coma patient). All of these weak points, combine to give what is essentially a pointless, inconsequential mess. There is no plot, no action, to great acting, no interest whatsoever. All things considered, there is very little to recommend "And The Moonbeams Kiss The Sea" and would go as far as to say that it is the weakest episode of "Lewis" to date.
Interesting story with good acting by Tom Riley as the autistic artist.
Using the 'stacks' of the Bodleian library was a good idea that could
have been made more of. (How odd that the library only seems to have
two employees, of whom one is dead.)
It's all a bit unlikely as usual - coincidentally, everybody who ever appears turns out to be linked.
I still have my problems with Lewis and Hathaway as a team. The scene outside the party exemplifies this. If the title 'The Glums' had not already been taken, it would be quite appropriate for the double act of these two. Hathaway, in particular, is a charisma and interest free zone. On the good side, his diction seems a little better than previously.
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