TV - Endeavour

With the Morse prequel Endeavour back on ITV1 for the ninth and final series, read an interview with its star Shaun Evans...

Press Release

Produced by leading indie Mammoth Screen - part of ITV Studios - in partnership with Masterpiece, the Morse prequel sees actor Shaun Evans reprise the title role of DS Endeavour Morse for the very last time. Shaun also directs the first of the new films titled Prelude.

It’s spring 1972 and Endeavour’s return to Castle Gate coincides with another homecoming, that of the celebrated Oxford Concert Orchestra, led by illustrious composer Sir Alexander Lermontov. A gruesome discovery in a College garden leads Endeavour and Thursday to the orchestra's door, and when a second tragedy hits, they uncover a web of secrets.

Meanwhile, grisly London business turns up in Oxford and a criminal from the Smoke is brutally murdered in a derelict warehouse. As the mystery unfolds, Endeavour and Thursday realise there are some unsettling ties to a case the pair had hoped was long since behind them.

Alongside Evans, the series sees illustrious stage and screen actor Roger Allam (Murder in Provence) return as DCI Fred Thursday.

The final instalment of the popular drama has once again been written by Endeavour creator Russell Lewis who has penned each of the 36 screenplays across the last decade. The new series, all set in the early 70s, finds Endeavour and Thursday entering a new era of change both professionally and personally with the return of some familiar faces along the way including Sam, played by Jack Bannon (Pennyworth), who arrives back from Northern Ireland following his service in the British Army.

Filmed in and around Oxford the strong ensemble cast reunited with Shaun and Roger includes Anton Lesser (Killing Eve, Game of Thrones) who returns as CS Reginald Bright, Sean Rigby (Gunpowder) as DS Jim Strange, James Bradshaw (Close to The Enemy) as Dr Max DeBryn, Abigail Thaw (Miss Scarlet and the Duke) as Dorothea Frazil, Caroline O’Neill (The A Word) as Win Thursday and Sara Vickers (Watchmen) as Joan Thursday.

Series nine is produced by Charlotte Webber alongside co-producer Joe Shrubb. Chief Creative Officer and Founder of Mammoth Screen Damien Timmer is the executive producer alongside Russell Lewis, Shaun Evans, Roger Allam, Mammoth Screen’s Director of Television Helen Ziegler and Susanne Simpson and Rebecca Eaton at Masterpiece.

Mammoth founder Damien Timmer worked on the original Inspector Morse and executive produced Lewis, as well as initiating Endeavour with Russell Lewis. Timmer said, “As Endeavour draws to a close, it's been an honour to be a part of this incredible journey. I'm so proud of the remarkable cast and crew who have dedicated their time and efforts to bring the series to life over the last decade, and I'm certain that the fans will be moved by the final instalment.

"It's a massive accomplishment for screenwriter Russell Lewis to have written all 72 hours of the show, and his passion for Colin Dexter's world, combined with his own boundless creativity and fondness for the 1960s and 1970s, has made Endeavour one of the most beloved series on British television.

"From the first Endeavour pilot Russell has known exactly where he wanted to end the saga of Endeavour Morse and Fred Thursday. We put off this awful day for as long as we possibly could, but there was a point a few years ago where we agreed as a creative team that it was time to prepare for the final end, and go out on a high! ITV has been the most generous and supportive partners and were very respectful of the team's decision to make this the final series. We have now made more Endeavour films than there were Inspector Morse stories."

Alongside Shaun, who directs the opening film Prelude, Nirpal Bhogal (First Born, Misfits, Sket) directs the second film Uniform and Kate Saxon (Grace, Silent Witness) directs the third film Exeunt.

Here's the interview with Shaun Evans:

How did you approach this final series of three films set in the summer of 1972?

“It’s important to never be complacent with your work. It galvanises people when you think, ‘We have to improve on what we have done last time.’ It gets the best work out of everyone. So there is that aspect to it.

“In terms of the story there needed to be a full stop between Endeavour and the Thursday family. All parts of the Thursday family. I felt that needed to be a very definite full stop.”

Where did we leave Morse at the end of the last series?

“Things were getting on top of Morse at the end of the last series. Burning the candle at both ends and not managing his relationship with alcohol. So he has taken some time off and been away for a number of months in what is said to be the West Country to get his act together.

“At the start of this series he is back with a more balanced perspective. It’s dealt with in a very subtle and interesting way. And he will now only take a drink during moments of emotional turmoil. It’s not for boredom or for habit. It’s harking back to what we’ve done over the past couple of years. Whenever things are getting difficult this, in a way, is his refuge. Likewise with the crossword puzzles and the opera. It’s a safe space for him.”

A theme of endings and beginnings runs through these farewell films. How does that impact on Endeavour?

“I think Endeavour’s aloneness and isolation is cemented in this series. He has felt that way throughout but there has always been a tantalising option dangled right in front of him. If he only could reach out and grab it. What we discover in these final three films is that, for one reason or another, he cannot reach out. And so his isolation and lonesomeness is completely cemented. And that’s where I wanted to leave it. Because then it’s a good place to be picked up again 15 years later in 1987 when the Inspector Morse series with John Thaw started.”

The investigation into Blenheim Vale, the home for wayward boys featured at the end of series two, returns to the fore. As do a number of faces from the past. How was that story left in 2014?

“That was where police corruption at the highest level was reflected and shown within our stories. As a result, at the very end of that ‘Neverland’ story, Thursday (Roger Allam) lay shot and Endeavour was falsely accused of something and spent time in prison. That’s where we ended series two. It left a number of unresolved issues and ghosts in a case we never really got to the bottom of. There was a feeling that it was still always bubbling away and something we hadn’t properly solved.

“It’s important because we all wanted for not just this ninth season but the whole series to feel as cohesive as possible. That’s one of the benefits of having only one writer and a very small team who are making it. For it to feel like a very self-contained world. And when we were reflecting on which case could go across them all it was Blenheim Vale which made most sense.”

Do Morse, Thursday and others find themselves under real threat in this series?

“It’s a revisiting of what we discovered in ‘Neverland’. That thing of London and Thursday being pulled back into that world which he thought he’d left. It’s unfinished business. And also that police corruption at a high level. We never really closed that circle at the end of ‘Neverland’ and this is an attempt to do that. With the same threat, the same conflicts now as then. It’s unresolved. Which is a very pleasing way to look at the whole series of stories we have told.”

Chief Supt Reginald Bright (Anton Lesser) is on the verge of retirement, no longer recognising this 1972 world. Does that show how things have changed since the start of Endeavour?

“Again it’s about beginnings and endings. Isn’t that frequently the case? Sometimes you think, ‘I don’t recognise this at all.’ When actually what has happened is time has moved on and perhaps you have not moved along with it. That’s when Bright knows it’s time to retire.

“Having said that, some of the stories in these final films involve groups and characters that demonstrate there are parallels between Endeavour in 1972 and the world of 2023. That’s when Russell Lewis really excels himself. When you can touch on the fact that in some respects we haven’t moved on in over 50 years.”

You directed another Endeavour episode in this series - the first film ‘Prelude’. There is a sense of foreboding in that opening story?

“The first episode features the Oxford Concert Orchestra and also the return of ‘London business’ to Oxford. As a director I wanted it to be a real juxtaposition between the very decadent, rich, dark wood panelling around the orchestra against the dirty, empty, gnarly warehouse where a man is tortured and killed. Along with all of the things that are happening with Thursday in his life. I wanted those worlds to be at odds. The universe is expanding and contracting at the same time for these characters.

“The orchestra looks authentic on screen. Kirstin Louie, who plays guest soloist Christina Poole, is a trained violinist as were many of the other actors. We were very fortunate to have such a group of multi-talented actors.”

We find out what happened to Sam Thursday (Jack Bannon) while serving with the British Army in Northern Ireland? How does his return impact on Fred and Endeavour?

“We’ve spoken before about the surrogate father and son relationship between Endeavour and Thursday. But in this series Sam, Thursday’s real son, comes back. He is not in a great place and needs all of Thursday’s attention. That further isolates and pushes Endeavour outside of that particular family circle. Thursday is not his father and Morse is not Thursday’s son. He is on his own. That all offers something interesting and new. Jack Bannon, who plays Sam, is fantastic. It was so lovely to welcome Jack back. He is a brilliant actor.”

The audience already know that Joan Thursday is engaged to marry Det Sgt Jim Strange (Sean Rigby). But Endeavour has yet to find out?

“Joan and Endeavour…there is a hopefulness and optimism to Endeavour when he returns to Oxford at the start of this final series. It’s that thing in life, which I hope we’ve captured across the series, of you think things are going to go on forever. But they don’t. That’s also reflected in this job. It’s easy to think things go on and on and on. But they don’t. Things end. Relationships end. Jobs end. Life ends.

“So when we come back and meet Endeavour at the beginning of this series there’s a scene where he reaches out to Joan. And as he is reaching out in what is new territory for him he realises it is too late. That ship has sailed.”

Episode two - ‘Uniform’ - features Kevin R. McNally as the detective star of an TV crime drama. When Thursday and Morse watch the filming, Fred describes it as “a rum caper”. You must have had fun playing those scenes?

“If we can’t poke a little bit of playful fun at the TV dramatisation of a series of books based on a detective now, then we never can. It felt like a great time to do it. I love all of the one liners between the actors and thought it was very funny.

“The first episode in this final series has its own atmosphere. And then the second film should feel jollier before we go down into the depths of the very last episode. I was really pleased with the way it turned out.”

The title of the final episode - Exeunt - is very appropriate. For those who don’t know, what does it mean?

“Exeunt is a stage direction which refers to two or more actors / characters leaving the stage. Which, of course, is reflected in the final film.”

The finale was directed by Kate Saxon. What did she bring to Endeavour’s farewell?

“Kate is a magnificent director. We have worked with Kate three times now and that’s no accident. She is so in tune with the actors in terms of their emotional stories. And that’s all you want. Someone who is going to listen and bring something to the table and do great work. We had talked for a long time about who we were going to get to direct the last episode and Kate was always who I wanted. Because she’s just so good and is definitely part of the Endeavour family.”

What did you and the Endeavour team want to achieve with the final episode and its conclusion?

“Final episodes are always very difficult. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. What we wanted to do was to end Endeavour in a way that was fitting to all of the enormous work we had put into it over the last 10 years and also to all of the huge support we have had every year from the audience. To not leave anybody feeling short changed. To leave people feeling emotionally satisfied. It’s also a thank you, in a way. To say, ‘Thank you so much for sticking with this over the past number of years.’ To honour and respect that. So it’s all of those things.

“Also for it to feel irreconcilable. For it to feel closed. In terms of we won’t be seeing Joan and Thursday again. We will see Morse and Strange again ‘later on’ in Inspector Morse but they will be very different versions of themselves. But our story is at its end.”

The audience are given proper farewells with all of the main characters?

“It was important that all of the main characters get their farewell moments. It reflects the democratic way we have worked. We have all been together from the beginning and everyone’s work is valid and equal. It’s important for everyone.

“That’s been one of the brilliant things about Endeavour. Yes, we have focused on the cases and the story between Endeavour and Thursday. But all of the actors - Anton Lesser (Chief Supt Reginald Bright), Sean Rigby (Det Sgt Jim Strange), James Bradshaw (Dr Max DeBryn), Sara Vickers (Joan Thursday), Caroline O’Neill (Win Thursday), Jack Bannon (Sam Thursday), Abigail Thaw (Dorethea Frazil) - have brought with them a very specific life outside of the stories we tell. Their character’s lives are just as full and rich. So it’s important to acknowledge that. To wrap them up in a pleasing way. Which is no mean feat.”

Are there moments in the final episode that pay due tribute to both Morse creator and author Colin Dexter and John Thaw, who played Morse in eight series of Inspector Morse?

“We always try to give a nod to Colin Dexter throughout, which viewers can try to discover. And especially to John Thaw in this final series. It feels like a handover.

“We spent days and days filming the very last scenes at Blenheim Palace and the shots we have used I find very satisfying. It’s perfect in its way. Hats off to the director Kate Saxon on that one. With nods and echoes in the final Endeavour episode to the very first Inspector Morse film - The Dead of Jericho - and the very last - The Remorseful Day.

“But it’s only the more discerning viewer who will realise what we have done. Those who have maybe watched all of the Inspector Morse episodes and all of the Endeavour series. We wanted to be fleet of foot about it. To do it with a sleight of hand and not to hit it on the head. It’s a subtle thing that fits perfectly into our story. It’s only there if you are really looking for it. And if you’re not you won’t even realise that you’ve missed it. And that’s OK too.”

There are two final scenes between Endeavour and Fred Thursday. What were they like to film?

“The final scenes between Endeavour and Thursday in the pub and then outside the Bodleian Library were shot on separate days. Filming the very final scenes on screen between Endeavour and Thursday - myself and Roger Allam were both incredibly clear about where the characters are emotionally at that point. And the push and pull of it. It was all about the work. That’s not to say it’s not emotional to not be working with Roger any more. It certainly is. But we’re going to be friends for life. And the reason that we will be friends for life is because the work is so important to both of us.”

How did you feel filming Endeavour’s final scenes at Blenheim Palace?

“The Blenheim Palace scenes, which are the last seen on screen, were not scheduled to be the last to be filmed. So we shot part of them but then hit a technical issue so had to come back for an additional day of filming.

“In hindsight, it all fell into place beautifully. Because what that meant was that I was there alone on the last day of filming. We had said goodbye to Roger and to members of the Thursday family the day before. And then the last day of the whole shoot was just me driving in Endeavour’s black Jaguar. So for me, personally, that was a way to say goodbye to it and to let it go.

“I spent all afternoon driving around in the Jag to get the shots required on that final day and into the early evening. And there was one point where the sun was going down over Blenheim Palace. I was on my own in the Jag and it felt very right. I thought, ‘I’ve done this now and I have no sadness in saying goodbye and moving on.’”

Having completed 36 films in total across 10 years, how do you reflect back on that journey?

“I feel incredibly proud of Endeavour. Grateful for the experience and proud of the work. Not only my own work but also the work of all of the other actors. I’m proud that we’ve all been with it from the start and that everyone has brought their best work repeatedly to it. Including Russell Lewis, all of the executive team, all of the directors and all of the actors too. I just felt very grateful. But also that it was time to move on.

“Of course there is a degree of melancholy when you say goodbye to any experience. But it’s a great feeling to be able to walk away and say, ‘I couldn’t have done more. There’s nothing more that I could have given. That’s it.’ That’s a nice feeling.”

Wanting to concentrate on Endeavour, you have never watched any of the Inspector Morse films. Might you now take a look?

“I don’t want to overestimate it but these Endeavour years have been a huge formative part of my life. And the amount of people that mention Endeavour to me, no matter where I am, is very gratifying. So I know I will always be connected with the Inspector Morse series as well. And that’s a very happy connection for me. So the time will come. Yes, I will definitely watch them. It probably won’t be right now but I will watch them at some point because it feels like it’s a first cousin in a way. Part of this magnificent universe I’ve been fortunate to be a part of these past 10 years.”

Endeavour is currently showing on ITV on Sunday evenings.

Images - ITV

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