Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Someone always has to be the first.  In this case, DCI Jane Tennison wants to be the first woman to head up a murder investigation squad for the Metropolitan Police.  She encounters many obstacles along the way, including opposition and hostility from male co-workers and complaints from family members as her energy is focused on catching a suspect.  Dame Helen Mirren does an outstanding job portraying DCI Tennison in the 7 episodes that make up the series Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection.

Jane Tennison has worked her way up the ranks of the police force, and now is eager to head up an investigation into serious crime. As the series begins, she gets her chance when the lead investigator dies of a heart attack soon after a girl is discovered in her flat.  Before his death, the investigator had identified the dead girl as Della Mornay, but once Jane is put on the case, she discovers that not only is the identification incorrect, but that the former chief, DCI Shefford, knew the supposedly murdered girl.  Tennison's job of discovering the murderer is made even more difficult by the fact that her subordinates resent that she has been put in charge.  Shefford's former partner, DS Bill Otley,
is openly hostile toward her and encourages disrespect among the other officers.  This makes Tennison even more determined to solve the case and get results quickly.  Her focus on her job causes rifts in her personal life, from missing important dinners with her partner to not participating in important family celebrations.  Throughout it all, though, Tennison remains calm, cool and determined -- at least on the outside!

In Episode One, Jane has to sort out why a dead girl of good character was found murdered in a prostitute's flat.  There is a suspect, but getting him nailed down won't be easy.  As a bonus in this episode, the dead girl's boyfriend is played by a very young, very pretty Ralph Fiennes!

Episode Two starts out with Jane getting friendly with a hunky young policeman on a training course out of town.  When workmen doing repairs in a back garden come across a body, Jane has to cut the training course short and return to London to head up the investigation.  Racial tensions are involved, since a young black girl went missing from that area several years previously.  A "token" black officer is brought in to work in the case, and it turns out to be the same policeman Jane recently had an affair with.  So she has to try to solve the case, as well as attempt to keep her private life private.

Jane has transferred to the Vice Squad at the start of Episode Three, so she's the one who's given the task of finding out who was responsible for the death of teen aged "rentboy" Colin Jenkins, who was found burned to death in the flat of a transsexual singer.  Again, Jane's personal life intervenes when a former lover, on a book tour, comes back into her life.

Episode Four has three separate stories, including one involving an abducted child, another about a murdered man with dodgy financial dealings, and a third in which killings similar to those in her first
case throw doubt on her earlier work.  Once again, she has to deal with obstructionist fellow police officers and a personal relationship that is tested.

Tennison has been transferred to Manchester in Episode Five, but soon gets a murder to investigate when a young drug dealer is found dead outside the flat.  A known drug lord, called The Street, becomes involved in the case and starts his own investigation.  The police seem to have an informer working with the drug dealers, and once again, Jane is involved in an ill-advised affair, this time with a superior officer.

The war in the Balkans has migrated to London, at least it seems that way when tensions between Bosnians and Serbs result in murder in Episode Six.  Jane's investigations ruffle enough feathers that she's under pressure to retire, but with her realization that her job is everything to her, she's determined to bring the guilty to justice.

In the final episode, a 14 year old girl doesn't return home after basketball practice.  Her family lives in an area overrun with troubled teenagers from a nearby shelter, so did she get mixed up with the wrong crowd?  Jane is due to retire quite soon and this, coupled with the ill health of her father, causes her to become increasingly dependent on alcohol.  Will that get in the way of her solving her final case?

The first series was filmed in 1991, and the final one in 2006, when Jane is working on her last case before retirement.  It is very interesting to see the evolution of the character -- from working hard to prove herself as "one of the guys" to becoming a respected leader to eventually becoming isolated and dependent on alcohol.  Throughout her career, though, her energy and determination are focused toward solving the crime and catching the guilty party, no matter what the personal costs might be.  The series also looks at some of the issues that were prevalent in society at the time, including sexism, racism, homophobia, and the abuse of children. 

The final disc also contains a very interesting bonus feature, "Behind the Scenes" of Prime Suspect.  Many of the cast and crew of the series give their impressions of working on the series, and how it changed the face of TV.  The female detective who was the main inspiration for Jane Tennison, Jackie Malton, discusses how she gave advice to Lynda La Plante, the creator of the series.  Ms. Malton was frequently called on to read the scripts and give her feedback, which resulted in the series being more realistic and Jane's character facing the same problems that real-life policewomen were dealing with at the time. It was also interesting to learn that the early episodes were actually filmed in Manchester, with vehicles such as double-decker buses and Evening Standard vans brought in to give atmospheric authenticity!

The complete collection is available on Blu-Ray and DVD, and you can also watch the individual episodes on demand on Acorn's website.

Disclaimer, I received a copy of Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection Four Gherkins, for being a realistic view of a pioneering female detective


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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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