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Inspector Morse: The Death Of The Self/Absolute Conviction [DVD] 
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Two more cases for the Oxford detective. In 'The Death of the Self' Morse (John Thaw) and Lewis (Kevin Whately) travel to Vicenza, Italy, to investigate the activities of a self-help group organised by a conman. Once there, Morse finds himself attracted to an opera diva attempting to stage a comeback. In 'Absolute Conviction' Morse suspects foul play when former entrepreneur Cryer dies in prison, apparently from a heart attack. Could Cryer's fellow inmates and former business partners be responsible?
When Inspector Morse first appeared on television in 1987, nobody could have predicted that it would run into the next century, maintaining throughout a quality of scripts and story lines that raised the genre of the detective series to a new level. Much of its success can be attributed to John Thaw's total immersion in the role. Morse is a prickly character and not obviously easy to like. As a detective in Oxford with unfulfilled academic propensities, he is permanently excluded from a world of which he would dearly love to be a part. He is at odds with that world--and with his colleagues in the police force--most of the time. Passionate about opera and "proper beer", he is a cultural snob for whom vulgarity causes almost physical pain. As a result, he lives from one disillusionment to another. And he is scarred--more deeply than he would ever admit--by past relationships. But he also has a naïve streak and, deep-down sensitivity, which makes him a fascinating challenge for women.
At the heart of Morse's professional life is his awkward partnership with Detective Sergeant Lewis, the resolutely ordinary, worldly sidekick who manages to keep his boss in an almost permanent state of exasperation while retaining his grudging respect. It's a testament to Kevin Whateley's consistently excellent performance that from such unpromising material, Lewis becomes as indispensable to the series as Barrington Pheloung's hypnotic, classic theme music. Morse's investigations do occasionally take him abroad to more exotic locations, but throughout 14 successful years of often gruesome murders, the city of Oxford itself became a central character in these brooding two-hour dramas: creator Colin Dexter stating he finally had to kill Morse off because he was giving Oxford a bad reputation as a dangerous place! --Piers Ford
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These episodes are two of the very best, featuring any number of well-known faces from British TV and films including Micheal Kitchen, Sean Bean, Richard Wilson and Jim Broadbent.
The first episode is one of the few not set in Oxford; it involves Morse and Lewis travelling to Italy to investigate the death of a British woman who wrote trashy chick-lit novels. One of the witnesses is an opera singer, so Morse is in his element, though Lewis is impatient to get home. Micheal Kitchen is great as an smarmy fraudster running a self-help course, while Morse's stubbornness brings him into conflict with the Italian police who are consider the case to be closed.
In 'Absolute Conviction' Morse and Lewis are faced with a suspicious death in an open prison. This time it is Sean Bean who gets to be obnoxious, as an arrogant, sneering inmate, while an ambitious, high-flying young police officer tries to impress Morse and annoys the more down-to-earth, hard-working Lewis.
Both episodes have all the best elements of Morse; The wonderful music, the elegant scenery, the well-developed minor characters and sub-plots, and of course the odd relationship between Morse and Lewis. I would really recommend anyone get the full set Inspector Morse - The Complete Collection [DVD] , but if you are only buying two episodes as a taster these are the two to get.
The overall plot is one of Morse's most complicated, filled with red herrings. A fraud whom Morse (John Thaw) has sent to jail in England is now released and conducting expensive psychological workshops in the hills of Vicenza, urging the participants to "burn the past" and to "be free." When one of the participants dies a gruesome death, all the others are suspects. Among these is Nicole Burgess (Frances Barber), an opera singer (Janis Kelly provides the singing voice) whom Morse greatly admires but whose stage fright has ended her career, unless Russell Clark (Michael Kitchen), the "psychologist," can help her. Nicole's husband, an aristocrat in need of money, is an artist who copies medieval manuscripts, and he may be involved with one of the other participants in a forgery plot. A female writer (the victim) has plagiarized the writing of one of the other characters, and one of the participants has disappeared.
Morse and Sgt Lewis (Kevin Whately) have only modest success in navigating the ins and outs of the Italian police system, which has closed the murder case. Conveniently for the plot (and for those who want to see a lot of Vicenza and Verona), they do much of their investigation on their own in and around Vicenza, and the camera work showing off the architecture is worth the price of the episode.
Though the mystery is far-fetched and so full of subplots that it's hard to keep details and characters straight, there's plenty of action within the glorious panorama of rural Lombardy. Nicole Burgess resides at Palladio's famous Villa Capra, also known as "La Rotonda," and the close-ups of its expansive views of the countryside and of its front entrance are breathtaking. Other scenes take place in the second storey loggia of the Basilica Palladiana, used here as a public building, with long shots showing the famous repeating arches. Nicole's opera performance at the Roman arena in Verona is unforgettable, both for Morse's reactions to her voice and for the views of the arena itself. Not the greatest Morse episode from the standpoint of a unified plot, it is certainly one of the best in terms of scenery and music. n Mary Whipple
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