A Review of Morse Episode, ‘Happy Families’. Plus the Locations, Music and Literary References.

Hello and welcome to another in my series of posts about the original series, Inspector Morse. Before I continue I would just like to write a huge thank you to all my followers, old and new, and thank you for your continued and very much appreciated support.

I am contemplating expanding my blog to a full blown website to allow me to hopefully make you the reader’s experience better. One idea I have for the website is to have a forum or discussion board for everyone to share their thoughts, ideas, stories regarding the three series. It would also allow Morse, Endeavour and Lewis fans to ‘talk’ and hold discussions. I am at the moment looking at the costs involved in running the website. Meanwhile, let’s get on with this post.

Chronologically this is episode 22. (Series 6 episode 2).

First broadcast in the UK on 11 March 1992.

This episode is not based on a Colin Dexter novel.

Where’s Colin?

Colin actually appears twice in the episode but as the same character.

Colin is the homeless person with the trilby like hat.

Directed by Adrian Shergold: Adrian also directed, Greeks Bearing Gifts.

Written by Daniel Boyle (not to be confused with Danny Boyle who directed some episodes of Morse and is famous for having directed the movies, Trainspotting, Sunshine, Slumdog Millionaire  etc). Daniel also wrote the episodes, Second Time AroundDead on TimeDeadly Slumber and The Day of the Devil.

Daniel also wrote the Lewis episode, Whom the Gods Would Destroy.

SYNOPSIS

Sir John Balcombe, who runs one of the top companies in the UK, is found murdered in the kitchen of his grand, prepossessing castle. Only a short time earlier in the night Sir John and his two sons, Alfred Rydale (Lady Emily’s lawyer) and Margaret Cliff, a friend of Lady Balcombe, were celebrating the birthday of his sombre, unhappy wife Lady Balcombe. During the rather lukewarm celebration Lady Balcombe mentions that not everyone she loves is present.

While Strange is on holiday, Superintendent Hodlsby is holding the fort but has ambition to replace Chief Superintendent Strange in the future. Holdsby asks Morse to attend a press conference.

At the press conference Morse’s haughty attitude antagonises the tabloid press. One of the reporters, Billy, decides to write about the crime but with Morse as the main focus. To this end he and his photographer stalk Morse in an attempt to discredit him and his way of life.

Sir John’ and Lady Balcombe’s son, Harry, is found dead, his neck broken and a chisel embedded in his chest. Subsequently the letters S.F. are found to be scratched on the chisel. The same initials were found on the hammer that killed Sir John.

Who is apparently trying to rid the world of the Balcombe family and what is the motive? Lewis and Morse tiptoe their way around the aristocracy who give life to the phrase that money doesn’t always bring one happiness. While many would enjoy having their picture in the paper Morse can’t fathom why his private life would be of interest to anyone and why his love of classical music and reading are deemed inappropriate and elitist.

One of the newspaper headlines above a photo of Morse is ‘Clever Dick’. Inspector Morse will prove that headline correct as he manoeuvres himself around aristocratic flummery, red herrings and those who define dying as ‘moving over’.

REVIEW.
(warning, this review may contain some spoilers)

I will write up front that this is not one of my favourite episodes, hence the score of only seven out of ten. I will come to my fundamental problems with the episode later in my review.

The episode has Morse once again negotiating aristocratic flummery. At the other end of the scale he has to contend with tabloid journalists and their need to write from a salacious angle. No point letting the truth get in the way of a good story. Inspector Morse’s need for privacy is well known and this episode emphasis that characteristic.

This episode is an interesting one but it does have problems with its plot. Sir John Balcombe was killed with a hammer but their was no blood on the floor. If not from splatter surely it would be dripping from not only the hammer but the killer as well, Margaret Cliff. No blood evidence was found between the dead body and the moat where the hammer was thrown. If Margaret wrapped the hammer in something immediately why didn’t she also throw that in the moat. If it was wrapped in something why were no fibres or similar found on the hammer. If it was wrapped in plastic then why not throw it in the moat with the hammer inside.

Secondly, how did Margaret manage to sneak up on Harry in the woodland. Anyone who has walked through a woodland knows it is almost impossible to do so quietly.

The above problems and those I mention below may give the impression that I hate the episode but I don’t. The direction is fluid and keeps the episode moving at a cracking pace. Rupert Graves is excellent as the slimy tabloid journalist and seems to relish the role small as it was. As I have said many times before the character actors help create a satisfying episode and should always be applauded for making the Morse series as great as it is. Alun Armstrong, a mainstay of British television, should also be mentioned for a very good performance as the ambitious Superintendent Holdsby. He certainly made you wish for Strange to return from his holidays a.s.a.p.

The screenplay isn’t top notch and certainly isn’t one of Daniel Boyle’s best. I think of all the episodes he wrote, The Day of the Devil, Deadly Slumber, Dead on Time and Second Time Around, Happy Families is his weakest.

My problems with the episode are the following. The characters of Harry and James Balcombe are stereotypes of the upper class; twits in other words. Their characterisation borders on the cartoonish and veers from foolish, childish behaviour to adult, mature behaviour in a grating incongruous way.

I find it hard to believe that a child psychologist, Margaret Cliff, would not have foreseen the consequences of telling Jessica that Lady Balcombe was her birth mother. It doesn’t ring true.

The side story of the journalist Billy, (Rupert Graves) feels like it was shoehorned in at the last minute. It doesn’t ring true and never really amounts to much other than to give Morse a great line to end the episode; “it was something I read in a book”. I suppose it does allow John Thaw to get his acting teeth around a gamut of emotions and helps to cement one of Morse’s characteristics; a need for privacy.

Episode Jag Rating – out of 10.

Music.

At 37 minutes and 50 seconds Billy, the journalist, and his photographer Chas sneak onto Morse’s property to take a photo of Morse at home. Morse is listening to Mozart’s  Soave ‘Sia Il Vento‘ from Cosi Fan Tutte.

At 54 minutes and 27 seconds Margaret Cliff is teaching Lady Balcombe how to play the piano. The piece they are playing is Mozart’s Piano Sonato D, KV 311

The section being played by Margaret and Emily Balcombe starts around the four and a half mark.

Literary References.

I didn’t come across any in this episode.

ART

At 43 minutes and 32 seconds the scene is in the Balcombe sitting room. Behind Harry we see a large painting.

This is a painting by George Stubbs (1724 – 1806) titled ‘Brood Mare and Foals‘.

This actual painting was sold in 2010 for 10 million pounds.

At one hour and one minute Morse visits James Balcombe’s office in London. Morse admires a painting on the wall.

The painting is called Portrait of a young woman known as “La Bella” by Palma Vecchio (also known as Jacopo Negretti). painted in the 16th century.

LOCATIONS

The main location in this episode is the castle/home of Sir John and Lady Balcombe.

The location is Shirburn Castle, Watlington in Oxfordshire.

————————

Next up we have Mr Rydale’s office in Oxford.

The office is on New College Lane.

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Next up we have Morse meeting Lewis after talking to Professor Joshua Masterson.

This is Holywell Street and the entrance is to Exeter College.

MISCELLANEOUS

At 5 mins Morse asks Lewis if there is a butler in the Balcombe castle. Lewis replies that he hasn’t seen one. Pity, says Morse, it might have saved us a lot of time. This is very similar to a conversation in the Morse episode Ghost in the Machine. In that episode Morse asks Lewis to go and talk to the au pair and the housekeeper. What, no butler replies Lewis.

This episode was the last appearance of Elizabeth Kettle as the WPC. Her first was Second Time Around. She appeared in five episodes.

I had a Q&A with Elizabeth Kettle. Click here to read that Q&A.

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This is strange similarity to two objects which appear in the office of Sir John Balcombe and the office of Alfred Rydale.

The small statues of a cavalrymen on horseback. Strange eh.

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Anna Massey (who played Lady Emily Balcombe) also had an actor brother Daniel Massey who appeared in an earlier Morse episode, Deceived by Flight.

Daniel Massey as Anthony Donn in Deceived by Flight

At around 48 minutes and a half minutes Morse and Lewis are in the jag after Morse had talked to Joshua Masterson. The car doesn’t start. John Thaw keeps pressing the button to get it going and eventually it sparks into life. John turns to Kevin Whately and must have smiled as you can see Kevin return the smile and he even appears to look over at the camera crew possibly wondering if they were going to have to redo the scene.

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During the episode the Jag’s rear view mirror can clearly be seen.

But in the final scene there is no mirror.

I’m assuming they took the mirror off so it didn’t block the view of the scene.

———————————–

This episode is about a family falling apart due to hatred and acrimony. Ironically, the family that owns Shirburn Castle also split apart due to an acrimonious court case. Click here to read about it.

Quote Me. (Interesting dialogue from the episode)

At 13 minutes during the press conference.

Female Journalist – “Was it a brutal murder Chief Inspector?”

Morse  – “All murders are brutal madam.”

Female Journalist – “Could you give us some details Chief Inspector. My readers will be outraged at the lack of information being given out.”

Morse – “Your readers’ outrage I can understand but a salacious interest in details is quite another thing. Are you saying that is what interests them?”

Female Journalist – “No.”

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At about 31 minutes, Morse walks into his office where Lewis is waiting.

Morse – “They’ve written about me in the papers Lewis. Not about the inquiry. About me.”

Lewis – “Fame can weigh heavy.”

Morse smiles.

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At one hour and 23 minutes Morse and Lewis visit Nottingham looking for Stephen Ford’s brother.

Lewis knocks on a door.

Lewis – “Oh hello. We’re from Thames Valley Police. We’re looking for a mister Robert Ford.”

Nottingham Lady – “Ford? We won’t find him here me duck. No, he moved over, well. fifteen year now. He were the tenant before me. That’s how I know.

Morse – “Please can you tell us were he moved to? It’s very important”

Nottingham Lady – “Oh no love no. He moved over to the other side.”

Lewis – “Are you sure?”

Nottingham Lady – “Certainly, i’m sure. (To Morse) You alright love?”

Lewis – “He’s fine. Did Mr Ford have any relatives?”

Nottingham Lady – “Oh I wouldn’t know me duck. I mind my own business. And it’s no good asking around here they’re all new now.”

Lewis – “Thank you.”

Morse – “Moved over? What couldn’t she just say he was dead.”

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The last scene of the episode. A journalist comes over to Morse who is sitting in his car.

Journalist – “Chief Inspector, do you have a confession?”

Morse – “I’m really very sorry but I can’t answer any questions at the moment.”

Journalist – “Can’t you just tell us how you got your break?”

Morse – “Yes, it was something I read in a book.”

Connections to the Endeavour and/or Lewis series.

Our first connection is the actor Jonathan Coy.

Joanthan Coy played the part of Harry Balcombe in this episode. More recently he appeared in the Endeavour episode Trove, series 2, episode 1.

Jonathan Coy as Archie Batten in the Endeavour episode Trove.

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Next we have Anna Massey who appeared in this episode as Lady Balcombe.

Anna Massey also appeared in the first episode of the first series of Lewis; Whom the Gods would Destroy.

Anna Massey as Prof. Margaret Gold in the Lewis episode Whom the Gods would Destroy.

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Next we have the wonderful Rupert Graves. In this episode he plays Billy a journalist for a tabloid newspaper.

Rupert also appeared in the Lewis series episode Falling Darkness, Series 4, episode 4.

Rupert Graves as Alec Pickman in the Lewis episode Falling Darkness

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David Baukham in this episode plays a police officer.

David also appeared in an episode of Lewis.

David Baukman as Norman a reporter in the Lewis episode Old School Ties. Series 1, episode 2.

In Memoriam.

I should have thought of this before and I don’t know why I didn’t. Though we watch the Morse series primarily to see John Thaw and Kevin Whately it is also a  testament to all the characters who have appeared in all 33 episodes that we keep re-watching each episode.  This new section will entail showing those actors who have died. I will probably go back to previous episodes and include an in memoriam section in each one. Of course I won’t include the regulars like John Thaw and James Grout. It is also possible that an actor’s death has not been announced or published.

CAST

Sukie Smith as Lorraine

Gwen Taylor as Margaret Cliff

Martin Clunes as James Balcombe. Martin has appeared in many things over the years but probably his most successful is his Doc Martin.

George Raistrick as Sir John Balcombe

Jonathan Coy as Harry Balcombe

Andrew Ray as Alfred Rydale

Anna Massey as Lady Emily Balcombe

Mark Draper as Constable. Mark also appeared in the episode Second Time Around.

Rupert Graves as Billy

Jamie Foreman as Chas

Liz Kettle as WPC

Alun Armstrong as Superintendent Holdsby

Tony Guilfoyle as Journalist One. Father Ted fans will recognise him as Father Larry Duff.

Sophie Uliano as Woman Journalist

Charlotte Coleman as Jessica White. Most people will know Charlotte from the film Four Weddings and a Funeral where she plays the ditsy Scarlett.

Robert Demeger as Forensic Scientist

David Baukham as Police Sergeant

Ralph Nossek as Professor Joshua Masterson

Richard Ireson as Pathologist

Beryl King as Nottingham Lady

I hope you have enjoyed the post and in particular the new section, In Memoriam. Take care everyone.

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2 comments

  1. I adore your blog, which I learned of recently, probably through the Inspector Morse FaceBook group. Thank you for all the backstory information you provide. As an Inspector Morse fan, I find all of it fascinating.

    Like

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