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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Lewis: Is it right to split up the episodes?



One time spin-off of Inspector Morse and now treasured in its own right, Lewis returned for a new series last week. The schedulers have chosen something different this time round, splitting the usual two hour long story into two separate parts which broadcast with a week between. This had the effect of making the story seem disjointed, even though I cheated and watched the first part from a recording so I only had to wait two days. I like to be able to hold all my little thoughts and observations in my head to help me work out ‘whodunnit’, which isn’t as feasible with a week in between episodes.

 The series opener centred on Reuben, a Psychology PhD student who was moonlighting as a clairvoyant in order to unethically collect raw data. He was murdered using barbiturates and a fatal injection of etorphine, a drug commonly used to sedate large mammals and also considered a humane way to conduct euthanasia. Up popped Sanjeev Bhaskar as a rights to die campaigner, whose daughter had died following a long and painful illness. Surely an actor of his calibre wasn’t just involved for a cameo, and so it proved as his wife was revealed as the murderess. But first a second student who assisted Reuben with his research was murdered having been stabbed with etorphine while jogging. She had previously gabbled to Hathaway that she believed Reuben’s death was part of a cover up of his plans to jeopardise their Professor’s sleep deprivation experiments on behalf of the military. While this was rather fanciful, it did treat the viewer to more screen time with the excellent Neil Stuke, familiar to us all as Billy in BBC barrister drama Silk.

 Another bum note was the character of Justine Skinner, tarot card reader and psychic. I fully expect her to be moving to Badger’s Drift soon as her portrayal was straight out of ITV’s other cosy crime jewel, Midsomer Murders. I believe the only cliché the writers didn’t treat us to was Justine making a trip to an ancient Druid burial ground. I think this is what critics call ‘drawing a character with a broad pen’. At least by treating her psychic ability as bunkum, it allowed Hathaway to expound his theories on religion and morality, something the character excels at. I half expect a documentary on the subject presented by Laurence Fox (who plays Hathaway) to be commissioned soon.

But then you could argue that Lewis is a documentary. A luscious tour of Oxford’s beautiful architecture that makes me long to visit. Reuben’s mother-in-law’s house had my family arguing over who got to live there if we had the requisite Lottery win. And we were rather taken by the classic car parked outside. I have no idea what make it was but surely it served as a nod to Inspector Morse’s Jaguar? In this two-parter we also paid special attention to scenes shot at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It has been suggested that hiring out venues to film crews would be a good source of funding and publicity for arts organisations in these cash-strapped times. I am in full support of this idea, and certainly had no idea the museum existed until watching Lewis.

 The plot was entertaining enough but I'm not sure why this isn't ensconced in the Sunday slot it was surely invented for. I guessed the murderess, although appreciated the deviation where you thought it was her husband, not least because we got a much more subtle than expected performance from Bhaskar. He mounted an excellent defence of her actions after attempting to cover for her which made me sympathise with him, but sadly I couldn't feel any such sympathy for the wife, who came across as very cold. More screen time would have alleviated this, but I suppose there is only so much you can squeeze in to two hours.

 I don’t watch Lewis for the guest stars but for the partnership between the titular Lewis (Kevin Whatley) and Hathaway (Laurence Fox). Their partnership this series is as warm, wry and strong as ever, although I hear they will be temporarily separated due to Fox’s hectic schedule. An honourable mention should go to the lifesaving performance of Hathaway’s neck brace however. I don’t feel it will match the cult following of Sarah Lund’s jumpers, although Hathaway did manage to look extremely dashing while wearing it.

Contributed by Victoria Prior

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