The painted veil
Funny, how life comes full circle, isn’t it? In the “Inspector Morse” series, Sgt. Lewis was the long-suffering, everyday bloke to Inspector Morse’s exasperated — and exasperating — cultured intellectual.
Both Morse and the actor who played him, the superb John Thaw, are gone now. In “Inspector Lewis” — the smartly done sequel series airing at 9 p.m. Sundays on PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery!” — Lewis (Kevin Whately) is the top dog. And his young sidekick, Sgt. Hathaway (Laurence Fox), has a cerebral, musical bent that Morse would’ve enjoyed nurturing. Or not.This delicious sense of completion is just one of the many pleasures of this series, in rerun on THIRTEEN. The new season begins with “And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea” (Aug. 30), which crystallizes all the series’ strengths. There’s the magnificent Oxford setting, with shadowy goings-on amid the light-dappled courtyards and sculpted spires and domes of the university. Rarely is place given such principal importance in American television.
No, American TV is more interested in pretty people. In “Inspector Lewis,” the characters, and the actors who play them, have a lived-in look. And yet, they still manage to be interesting, even sexy people. Fancy that.
Apart from the sense of place and character, what really makes “Inspector Lewis” work are the meaty plots in which the seemingly unrelated crimes nonetheless always have a cultural link. In “Moonbeams,” the murder of a library custodian with a gambling problem and a fey student who lives for art are connected by the great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. (The title is a line from one of his poems.)
The rebellious, impractical Shelley was one of Oxford’s more notorious students, having been expelled for writing a pamphlet on atheism, although smarty-pants Hathaway says it was for an affair with a married woman. (Being a romantic — with a small “r” — I prefer Hathaway’s interpretation, don’t you?)
Hang on for the twisting, poignant conclusion, in which you’ll also be rewarded with a view of the university’s stunning sculpted tribute to Shelley, who drowned off the coast of Italy in 1822, a month short of his 30th birthday. But don’t weep for him. Shelley believed life was but “the painted veil.”
Or as he wrote in “Adonais,” his elegy for another Romantic poet, John Keats:
Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep,
He hath awaken’d from the dream of life.