Everybody loved Morna Copthorne (Angela Douglas). Or nearly everybody. When she’s found shot dead, Gideon is tasked to investigate her murder – and he finds that a much more complex character emerges.
The opening scene is an interesting one – we see a fisherman discover Morna’s body and then we observe him rush off to inform the police. But it’s all dialogue-free, instead the incidental music almost seems to be acting as a substitute. It feels slightly odd, but it works.
We then cut to Gideon’s house as he, Kate and Matthew are planning a day out, although there’s no prizes for guessing that an important call will shortly force Gideon back on duty. Kate looks far from happy (indeed, it’s pretty much the most disgruntled I can recall her looking throughout the whole series).
Morna was the daughter of an important man, Sir Robert Copthorne (Robert Adams), and some discrete strings have been pulled to ensure that Gideon heads the case. During the early part of the episode we hear several fulsome tributes to the dead girl, starting with her father. “What was Morna like? She was exquisite. She was like a rose, soft, fragile, lovely. Everything thing about her was beautiful.” Poor Sir Robert seems a broken man. Later he tells Gideon that since Morna was born late in his life, he now has nothing to look forward to. The fact that he looks at his wife, Lady Copthorne (Shelagh Fraser), when he makes this statement is telling.
Gideon and Keen then travel to Morna’s exclusive public school, which is run by Harriet and Leonard Bright (Kay Walsh and John Justin) who continue the praise of the girl. Harriet tells them that Morna was her favourite pupil (“she had all the qualities that make up a wonderful human being. She was so warm, so vital, so alive”). Leonard is no less effusive. “She had a quality, you know. Same sort of quality a star has. She glowed.”
If all this sounds far too good to be true, then it’ll come as no surprise to learn that it is. Everybody who praised Morna so fulsomely had their own reasons and for many there’s an element of self deception. For example, Lady Copthorne is the first to illuminate a chink in Morna’s armour – she drank. Sir Robert seems disbelieving, but it’s more likely that he knew all along about her frailties, he just wouldn’t admit them. Lady Copthorne then makes a damning statement about their child – by giving her every material gift they could, they ended up spoiling her. She admits that they attempted to buy her affection, leaving the possibility open that Morna never cared for them at all.
Although Morna’s dead at the start of the episode, via flashbacks we do get to see her. Because we’re effectively viewing her through the eyes of various people – her best friend Lydia Merritt (Alita Naughton), her fiancé Michael Usher (Norman Bowler) – there’s the possibility that the Morna we’re watching has been “edited” by them. This doesn’t seem to be the case though.
Through various testimonies, we discover that Morna kept a flat in London, enjoyed gambling, marijuana and was pregnant. She owed nightclub owner Chay (Johnny Sekka) eight hundred pounds and this seems at first to be the crisis she faced on the day of her death. I’ve written elsewhere about how impressive Sekka was in the Z Cars episode A Place of Safety, and he’s equally good here. Chay is someone with a chip on his shoulder – he’s a black man in a white man’s world – so below his charming exterior is a mass of resentment. It bubbles to the surface after Gideon takes him in for questioning. This interview is probably one of the most hostile seen in the series – compared to the likes of The Sweeney it’s tame stuff, but it pushed the series into an area that it didn’t often cover.
Angela Douglas (like Kay Walsh) was one of a select group of actors who played two different roles in Gideon’s Way. Morna, like Cathy Miller in The “V” Men, is a vulnerable character. Our perception of Morna certainly changes as the episode progresses, but she doesn’t suddenly turn into an “evil” person. I think that Alun Falconer’s screenplay was attempting to make the point that she’s neither saint or sinner – just an ordinary person with human frailties. And if she was painted by some as an untouchable goddess, then that was simply because they had agendas of their own.
As a big fan of Moonbase 3, my heart was warmed to see Barry Lowe in the small role of a forensics officer. He clearly wasn’t a terribly good one though, as his examination of the boat house, close to where Morna’s body was found, failed to spot a bullet hole in the wall!
Kay Walsh had been the central figure in The Housekeeper, so the role of Harriet Bright appears, at first, to be much less interesting. It’s certainly a smaller part, but it turns out to be a vital one. John Justin is terribly good as her husband, a man who seems to have rather an inflated opinion of his teaching abilities. Alita Naughton only had a handful of credits and there’s something a little distancing about her performance, which I think is down to the dubbing. Her character, Lydia, was American, so possibly Alita’s American accent wasn’t terribly good and she was later redubbed?
Another good story, enlivened by some decent performances (most notably Johnny Sekka).