DCI Jane Tennyson has come to the end of a long career.  A month shy of retirement she is a drunken loner subject to blackouts so severe that she can’t remember where she went or what she did the night before or whose bed she ended up in.  Her colleagues snigger behind her back, her sister is remote and disapproving and her father is dying.  Not one of them ever understood why Jane wanted to get into police work in the first place let alone make it a life-long career – they gave her no credit for her steady rise through the ranks and gave her no support as she struggled up the ladder to become one of the rarest of the rare – a woman at the top of her profession, Detective Chief Inspector of the Murder Squad.  Her home is the ‘nick’, her associates are thieves and murderers.  In the old boys club that is the police-force she has had to claw her way up every step, facing down an unending torrent of abuse and discrimination along the way – not only from her colleagues and subordinates but from the families of all those victims as well.  She has had to place a diamond hard shell around herself and her feelings just to survive in this very masculine world so it is no surprise that she finds some semblance of solace and comfort at the bottom of a bottle.  Epithets are screamed at her at every turn, she is degraded and humiliated on a daily basis and yet she soldiers on because there is still a back-bone of steel there and a determination to resolve that one last case before she walks off into a lonely sunset.  A schoolgirl has gone missing and Jane has very little time to find the killer before she leaves the murder squad and its sordid world forever, perhaps to climb deeper into the bottle, perhaps to sit on a beach in Florida mulling over a life without children, husband or friends – there remain only regrets.

 

The Prime Suspect series came to fruition for the first time in 1991 and since has been acclaimed as the best murder-mystery series to come out of the Granada Studios – or anywhere – ever.  Originally anticipated to have a run of at best half a dozen episodes or so, the series has run for more than 15 years and has produced hundreds of episodes, each one more tightly drawn and intense than the other.  Original scripts by Linda La Plante “garnered many prizes including six British Academy Awards (BAFTA), the British Broadcasting Award, the Royal Television Society Writer’s Award, the Edgar Allen Poe Writer’s Award and an EMMY for “Best Mini Series” [www.laplanteproductions.com]

 

In the television world studios in general, particularly in the ‘90’s when Prime Suspect was born,  produced fodder for the masses – mindless entertainment that only required an IQ below 65 and a willingness to absorb nothing more demanding than endless reiterations of the same old same old crap.  Against this thin gruel of cheap mass produced pap Prime Suspect stood out like a beacon to a drowning sailor.  This was no cheap entertainment, soon to be forgotten, this was very expensive programming with first rate writers and directors that could not be produced in an afternoon but required location shoots, technical excellence and superb acting talent.  It’s no wonder then that there was a certain amount of trepidation in the studios when the idea was first broached by Linda La Plante, who was better known at the time for her mystery novels than for screen-plays.  It was certainly quite the leap to cast a female protagonist upon whose shoulders the entire production would rest.  No-one knew if the audience would accept a woman in such a leading role.  The risks were enormous.  But La Plante insisted from the beginning that not only should the show have a female lead but it should ‘tell it like it is’ – there would be no covering up of uncomfortable subject matter, there would be no topic too volatile to be explored.  Episodes have therefore run the gamut from racism to homophobia, child-abuse, pedophilia, pornography, murder, rape, and of course misogyny, so prevalent then as now in the force.

 

Prime Suspect the Final Act is a tightly paced, edgy psychological drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.  Right from the opening scenes you are drawn inexorably into the dark and dingy world that Jane inhabits, with all its dirty little secrets, its liars and its cheats, and its murderers, somewhere out there lurking in the shadows.   The mood, the lighting, the music, the camera angles, the locations, the rain – everything combines to keep you riveted to the screen.  For a life-long fan of Prime Suspect this last episode is by far the best of a superb bunch.  This is television drama of the very highest rank and Helen Mirren – well, I can only say that she is absolutely breath-taking in this role.  If she hadn’t won the Oscar for the Queen then she absolutely should have won one for this.  There is only one word to describe this final offering – Brilliant!

 

The DVD is produced by Acorn media and special features include a 50-minute behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery, and cast filmographies. Release date September 2007.

 

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