Post image for DVD Review: PRIME SUSPECT: TENNISON (MASTERPIECE on PBS Distribution)

by Dale Reynolds on July 24, 2017



For the few who don’t know, Prime Suspect is the well-loved cop-show game-changer from MASTERPIECE on PBS. The series, which ran from 1991-2006 starring a glorious Helen Mirren, now has a prequel. Series creator Lynda La Plante’s 2015 novel Tennison is the basis for this newest six-part television mini-series, but she abandoned the adaptation, which was finished by Glen Laker. Now on DVD from PBS distribution, director David Caffrey’s six one-hour episodes make up MASTERPIECE: PRIME SUSPECT: Tennison (which in Britain was subtitled 1973, the year in which it is set).

The new Jane Tennison, aged 22, is played by television actor Stephanie Martini. Her Jane is new to the London force, facing the normalized prejudices against her gender of the day. One other female copper is there, WPC Kath Morgan (a terrific Jessica Gunning), from whom she can find support for some of the (now) outrageous sexism of the era.

Young Tennison was born into an upper-middle-class family who choose not to understand how this rebellious daughter could possibly want a career in law enforcement. But with high intelligence, pluck, courage and resolve, our heroine sets up what will eventually be a huge payback when Mirren’s set of seven series succeeds this tale.

The main through-line of the stories are a bank-robbery set up by a low-level criminal gang, headed up by Clifford Bentley (Alun Armstrong), with his psychotic eldest son, John (Lex Shrapnel) and sensitive younger son, David (Jay Taylor) in support. Cliff’s wife and mother of the two sons, Renee (played by a personal favorite, Ruth Sheen), allows all this malarkey to frustrate her life.

The leader of the crime squad, Detective Inspector Len Bradfield, is played with authority by square-jawed and handsome Australian actor Sam Reid. Although married, DI Bradfield is drawn to the smart and doe-eyed Tennison, then as now, a no-no.

It’s well-shot in and around London (Hackney, actually) and aided by excellent period-detail, but the writing is rather traditional, and there’s nothing particularly new here. Still, the ensemble moves it forward; the actors are, to a one, as well-schooled and watchable as anything British. And because their art-forms are not dictated by excessive good looks, capable talents such as Armstrong, Sheen and Gunning are allowed prime exposure to their talents.

stills courtesy of PBS

MASTERPIECE on PBS Distribution
6 episodes on 2 discs | 360 minutes | not rated
released on DVD and Blu-ray on July 11, 2017
available at shopPBS and Amazon
for more info, visit MASTERPIECE

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