SUNDAY EXPRESS - David Stephenson
There’s a dramatic change in tone for viewers when we meet Endeavour in the sixth series of ITV’s hit drama. The Inspector Morse prequel has taken a darker, more ominous and more intriguing turn than before. But its days may be numbered, as we will reveal.
Shaun Evans, who plays Endeavour, says: “The intention was to pull the rug from under the characters and to put them in uncomfortable situations, leaving them humiliated.”
The new series certainly does that. For the first five minutes of episode one you can’t quite tell what’s going on. Cowley police station has closed and its happy(ish) band of detectives have been given lesser roles.
Although Lewis Peek’s DC George Fancy was shot at the end of the previous series, there are still familiar faces in the new Thames Valley Police Station. Roger Allam returns as Endeavour’s partner and mentor Fred Thursday. Yet people are uneasy about what the future holds, if indeed they have a future in the force, and this includes Endeavour himself. He now has a ‘tache, which is very 1969, when the series is set. But he is also wearing a police uniform, having been demoted to a common-or-garden sergeant working in a tiny village. He has effectively been sent to Siberia.
Who can bring this happy band back together? Judging by the first episode, the situation is rather hopeless. But it makes for a gripping, tense drama.
Shaun, now 38, inhabits Endeavour in much the same way that John Thaw did, with grit and compassion, dogged by unrequited love. The character is famously dreadful at relationships, after all.
The advantage of making a prequel is that we know where we are heading and what will await Endeavour when he eventually takes his rightful place as a detective chief inspector at Thames Valley Police Station.
Jim Strange is already in place – a future superintendent in the Thaw era – and he finds himself investigating the death of his colleague George Fancy.
Not only does he have connections with the Masons but there is also more to his police role than meets the eye.
Liverpudlian Shaun has grown in stature along with the young Endeavour, showing a broad acting range while giving continuity to a character we know so well.
And with each series, he and writer Russell Lewis manage to add new dimensions to Endeavour and, most importantly, tell a good mystery story that is a challenge for both him and the viewers to solve.
But first of all, we must talk ‘taches. “It was good shaving it off”, Shaun reveals, “and it’s not coming back! It was just after the last scene and off it came.
But it was kind of fun. And I liked the idea of doing something that takes it a little bit further away from you. And it was good for him to be in uniform too. It was a sign of low status.”
And the reaction back in Liverpool from family and friends? “’Oh God, what is that?’ kind of sums it up!”
Evans has even directed his first episode. It’s a big achievement but he appears taken aback when I ask if it was his dream to both star and direct.
“Do you know,” he begins with characteristic modesty, “I’ve never really thought about it. It’s amazing, yes. And I’m lucky. It’s incredible.
“I just always hope that I’ll work and I continue to hope that. I never thought, ‘Oh, I’d love to do that’.”
What next? A feature film, perhaps? There’s a very long pause. “I just love telling stories. And I wouldn’t like to limit myself saying, ‘I’d like to do that next’. I want to be open. I just feel totally blessed right now.”
It’s not his first outing in the director’s chair. He says: “I got to do two stints in Casualty, which was incredible. It’s been an amazing experience to do Endeavour, right from start to finish.
“It’s also been nice to put into practice all the things I had been learning along the way watching others. We’ve had some terrific directors. I wanted to put my own stamp on it, too.”
And he adds: “There’s something about having two jobs that makes you do each one very economically – which I think is very useful moving forward. And I think that I will do more. This is really the beginning for me. It’s not a novelty. Fingers crossed, I hope other chances will come along.
“But it’s just storytelling. For both. The great thing is that because you’re in the majority of scenes and you’re leading the story through, you have a sense of what’s important in a scene. As an actor, you’re picking apart the script anyway.”
But might this be the end? Shaun Evans’s silences appear to give it away. “It just depends on so many things… viewing figures… whether it gets recommissioned, however many we want to do… and how much story there is left to do. I think we should let the story itself dictate that.”
Could you make it to 10 series? There’s a longer silence. “I just think it’s important not to stay beyond your welcome.” But would he like to bring it to 10 series? “No.” Better prepare some emergency Kleenex.