Dear friends and readers,
My Christmas present from Jim and Izzy (bought by me on their behalf) was the complete set of Prime Suspect seasons, and while I was chuffed to get them, it was not until I opened the box three nights ago now and began to watch again that I realized what a wonderful present I had given myself. From two angles: first off, I had not been understanding or seeing the stories the way they were intended and second, they continue to rivet, move, and thematically fascinate me.
First that the box showed me that the set on Netflix misrepresent the series: stories are left out. Does it matter? yes.
I had suspected there was something wrong, something missing. One of the delights of this series is the mostly marginalized but on going story of Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison herself. At the close of “The Lost Child” we had Jane having had an abortion and sitting in the darkness and at the opening of “Scent of Darkness” she had embarked on a fulfilling liaison with Dr Patrick Schofield (played marvelously by Stuart Wilson), the psychologist from “The Lost Child.” How was this? Then what I thought was the next story, about a Bosnian woman who was tortured I was so disappointed to find no Stuart Wilson who I really liked, especially from his relationship with her. Jane Tennison was alone, haunted, often in a black cape and had on DI Haskons with her.
Well, when I opened the box of DVDs for the first time, I found 7 boxes with a couple of boxes having 2 disks; the 6th and 7th also have bonus features (!). In Box 4 I found between the two-hour each film, “The Lost Child” and “The Scent of Darkness,” another 2 hour film: “Inner Circles.” And that there was a mini-series film between “Scent of Darkness” and the 6th series about the torture of a Bosnian refugee where Jane Tennison relocates to Greater Manchester for a stint as a community relations police officer. “Inner Child” lacks the usual crew of people except for Richard Hawley (Di Haskons in all of them) and a cameo appearance of John Benfield (her supervisor, Mike).
One problem with doing this series over several years is the producers could not always get the people back so my guess is her (unlikely) stint as “community relations” person (just what she as an iconoclast and unconventional woman would not be acceptable at or even good at) was the inspired reaction to the producers not being able to get any of their usual people back.
They overcame this partly by the focus on Jane but they clearly also did this for itself. The series has a woman’s novel implicitly working itself out inside the conventions of a police procedural (as the genre is called in Britain). In many of the detective series the film-makers of TV (BBC, the better British channels and PBS) have filmed, the books may have the outlines of an ongoing story’ but most of the time in the TV programs this must be dropped because there are too many programs (when it’s a success). Lynda LaPlante’s (and her successors) creating a series out of their own minds and intended for TV (not based on novels) and not having that many programs or stories per season , there is an evolving story and it matters. Sometimes it presents an ironic or ambivalent contrast to the crime story, sometimes Jane’s emotion out of her own life reinforces the emotion of the crime story, motivates her quest to solve the crime strongly.
To outline: when we first meet Jane (Story 1, Season 1, a mini-series) she is having trouble breaking into the hierarchy of the police force. She cannot get a case to conduct. She is also in a warm relationship with a husbandly man played by Tim Wilkinson – he has broken with his wife who is now pregnant with another man’s child and Jane tries to make dinner for him, the child and herself. We see he can’t get enough jobs in the killing new capitalist structure where people are left to “free-lance” and it hurts their relationship as she sits up night after night — to a breaking point.
Jane also is straining to spend any time with her biological family; when with them, she must watch TV to keep up with her job and partly ignore them, and this angers Peter.
In story 2 (Season 2, another mini-series) we see her have a casual encounter with a young black officer which is held against her and she must drop as he is going to use it to wrest power.
The 3rd story (Season 3, another mini-series) about transsexuals and child molestation is so powerful and is framed by her at the opening of the story meeting an old lover and having a week with him where she does wrenchingly break it off because he demands she give up her job and he will in turn leave a wife and 4 children. This is scenario we may often see: the aging man leaves a wife and 4 children for a mistress. To her credit, Jane refuses.
The 4th story (Season 4) is the first of three 2 hour films and given a title: “Lost Child.” In this one she has an abortion, the result of her love affair in Story 3. It’s also the story of a child murdered by its mother where almost automatically a man who had been known to sexually molest and abuse children (had spent time in jail for this) was blamed. Jane’s anger is fueled by her own loss, her own ambivalence. The story includes a psychologist, Patrick Schofield (played memorably by Stuart Wilson) who explains and defends the accused young man to Jane.
I now realize that “Scent of Darkness” is Story 6, the the third of the two hour films of Season 4) and did not follow “Lost Child.” It has the most development of Jane’s private or non-professional life of all of them: we see Jane and Patrick
meeting at a movie house, both too late for the show, and discovering neither wanted to see it and then we have these vignettes of them in bed, in the bath, drinking and talking, her working at her latest crime and he watching TV: in this one he seems to betray her by himself taking on as a customer in part the man who wrote the book saying her solution of the first crime was false. The crime part of the story is a re-do of Story 1 (Season 1) about violence against women, how Jane is not permitted a promotion easily, how the men conspire against her to protect their chief. At its end she triumphs over a humiliation, dances with the officer chief who tried to bring her down, and is last with her Patrick at the same dinner party.
So how did she get there: to that affair. Well, “Inner Circles,” Story 5 of Season 4, a two-hour movie in which shows her very lonely, picking up the phone to call this psychologist who she had liked and getting his answering machine. Trying twice. She has no circle, she is someone who comes home from her job and watches TV or reads. I see the opening of “Scent of Darkness” was the opening of their affair.
In “Inner Circles,” Jane’s lonely or outcast state may seem deprived, but the inner circles she see are made up of people who as much prey on as they support one another. She has more strength and more distance to be able to feel and act upon more real or un-ambivalent affection for the youngsters of the story than their troubled parents can manage. We see her fellow officers discussing this more than once and she is needled by DCI Raymond (Ralph Arliss), the man who is running the cop shop she is momentarily relocated to: he is having an affair with a woman detective in the office, DS Cromwell (Sophie Stanton) who changes allegiances to Jane during the 2 hours. When she sees them as a pair at a town bar and asks him, where is his wife, he retaliates by saying “at home” and she “she’s fine, she’s still getting it regularly which you’re obviously not.”
I immediately recognized Arliss as the hard apparently mean working class male gamekeeper type in the 1977 Love for Lydia. Inner Circles like Story 1 (Season 1) and also “Scent of Darkness” (Story 6, Season 4) reaches back to superb actors from the 1970s series who never made it to total stardom. From Stuart Wilson (Ferdinand Lopez in Pallisers) to Gareth Forwood (Everett Wharton in the same part of the Pallisers) as the murder victim, Dennis Carradine. Again Wilson played the strong alluring male lover while Forwood the man with homosexual inclinations who cannot succeed in the world, weakish, but well-meaning, emotional, a victim type.
In my previous three blogs I suggested that each film-story examines another aspect of real life. In “Inner Circle” we move to a contrast between the wealthy, comfortable upper middle milieu, a place of of clubs, of power in police shops and city councils, and the desperately despised poor in public housing like Larchmont Estate from which the people accused of murdering Dennis all come, and in fact the hired killer too. The politics of the piece is the rich people are in cohoots with Raymond and others to blame the poor, do what they can to stimgatize and make the idea of helping such people useless, ludicrous, dangerous in order to protect their own crimes, ruthless appetites, and of course money and power. I noticed Anthony Bate as James Greenlees is the head of the club; he often plays this type (he was Lacoon in the 1970s/80s Smiley films).
Like Paul Endicott, when Greenlees is last scene he is getting into a luxurious car and driving home: at the center of the storm, he gets away with his dealing scot-free because he knows how to stay on the right side of custom and law
This time the murderer Maria Henry (Jill Baker), an upper class woman lawyer who wants to hide her financial dealings and her long-time friend, Dennis’s incompetence is leaking it out. She and Greenlees and her lover, Paul Endicott (James Laurenson), also a member of the club have Arliss to cover up for them and present the crime as an act engendered by poor people living in council housing (ironically named Larchmont Estates) who hated a homosexual upper class male type and tortured him in some humiliating way before strangling him.
So the crime becomes ammunition against social programs too. Early on in the show everyone assumes that Mickey Thomas (Jonathan Copestake) murdered Dennis with the help of the young woman the police do take in, Sheila Bower (Julia Rice). Raymond’s police come to the housing project and he panics and flees, and runs into a car which smashes him to death. Even half-way through the show the country club types, and Raymond are still trying to pin the crime on Thomas and Sheila.
Only this pair of young people didn’t torture or strangle him. They were just trying to burglarize the building in which Dennis lived.
Like “Lost Child” and “Scent of Darkness” too much was piled into 2
hours and I didn’t quite get the ins and outs so had to re-watch before I understood what had gone on.
Suffice to say this one made me identify with Maria Henry (Jill Baker) the woman lawyer — this astounded me. Again the series was functioning to extend the sympathetic imagination, this time mine. This upper class lawyer, successful networking made-up hard nosed woman. Well she melts at the behavior of her equally hard but stupid and naive daughter, Polly Henry (played brilliantly by a young Kelly Reilly — Story 1 had a young Ralph Fiennes equally brilliant — and cannot reach her. I burst into tears at one angry set-to between them. Polly does not understand how she is being used and it is through her that her mother Maria’s crime is exposed.
Maria now needs to kill the killer of Dennis, Geoff Brennam (Thomas Russell), a sadistic thug because Jane Tennison has realized that Geoff was the paid killer.
So Maria Thomas tells the easily bullied stammerer, another vulnerable young man, Hamish Endicott (Nick Patrick), Maria’s lawyer-loverm Paul Endicott’s son that Jeff raped and beat and maimed Polly, needling the boy to hammer Jeff’s head to bits. Paul loves Polly from afar:
Hamish has been tormented and mocked and fleeced by Jeff (as he has been similarly sneered at by his father) and a huge amount of raging hostile emotion has built up.
Maria taps into this easily, manipulating the young man into fancying himself a hero doing a brave deed. Someone a the Larchmont Estate where Jeff lived and did inflict rough cruel sex on Polly saw a red-haired woman in the car with tall young man; when Hamish turns himself in, it’s a matter of deciding whether the woman was Polly or her mother, Maria. Maria could leave her daughter to be blamed (and we see the girl is a narrow, silly person who will probably be destroyed by others later), put that that far she won’t go. She has tried to protect her daughter from her crimes, her life-style, her boyfriends to no avail. Polly wants to live the way she sees her mother does, does not know enough to see how hollow are Maria’s relationships. It is hard to tell whether Maria does love the daughter who instinctively feels her mother does not love her, but when she turns whining to her in the last moment of the show, the mother melts once again.
They are an inner circle inside an inner circle. Jane is in no such inner circles at all — nor is DS Cromwell whom we learn during the show came from an estate like the Larchmonts and understands some of the psychology of the young people burglarizig and behaving in self-destructive ways. It is Cromwell’s way of interrogating the suspects that helps Jane to understand and ferret from them the truths of what happened.
Perhaps Jane and Cromwell are better off with their impersonal relationships. But Jane at least is lonely as we see her making those phone calls to Patrick’s answering machine. And DS Cromwell has been giving herself to that shit Raymond and for all we know may return to him casually once again.
That it’s a mother-daughter relationship gone all wrong and women’s friendship story at its core may come from its film-makers mostly being women as were the first three stories (seasons 1-3). It’s based on a story by a woman, Meredith Oakes; it’s directed by Sarah Pia Anderson and two of the producers were Sally Head and Rebecca Eaton.
Other miseries of human relationships that are explored, dramatized exposed beyond that of how the powerful and rich treat the desperate and poor is how cold and therefore cruel and bullying personalities can twist emotionally loving and warm and weak or uncertain people. How such people will get back either directly or through the very love relationship the strong or bullying person (in two cases here it’s a father and son and a mother and daughter or parents and children) takes advantage of or even promotes.
Some good lines:
On the police fear of the people in the Larchmont Estate and their terror (justified) of the police: Jane: “Whatever happened to community policing?”
Mike, Jane’s superior to Jane and her repeat reply late in the film: “”Politics this is what this is all about use your social skills if you’ve got any …”
Jane Tennison to Maria Thomas: “Tennison: you are refusing to tell us anything. Maria: “I honestly feel I’ve been as fank as I dare be.” In fact that’s so. We see how laws set up to protect people like her. She can claim client confidentiality to hide that she and Dennis were in deep trouble over their buying of a ruin, Burdette House when the city gov’t refused to let them build luxury housing there
I like my Christmas present very much. Prime Suspect was a series of brilliant films which evolved as they went, inventing and changing as the year and times and what was available for actors demanded. (By contrast, Poldark stayed with the books, for all three tries, even the 1996.) Perhaps the people making the 4th season of 3 two-hour films realized they had piled too much in and the series lost some viewer-ship or maybe because it kept gaining, for I can see that they returned to mini-series in the 5th season. I have much to enjoy. But before I watch these for the first time, I shall luxuriate in re-watching the touching affair of Stuart Wilson and Helen Mirren of “Scent of Darkness.” As I say these films demand and repay rewatching.