Posts Tagged ‘jane tennison’

Helen Mirren, final shots: walking quietly away from a lifetime of work

Dear friends and readers,

I have now watched this last mini-series (two episodes of well over an hour each) and found it did not disappoint. The final act shows Jane Tennison understandably faltering before her own need for companionship with a girl as she imagines she once was (as her father lays dying and she is made to understand it’s time to retire) but then upon recognizing that Penny Philips (Laura Greenwood as the adolescent girl who seemed to so cling to Jane, admire her) had to have been the deliberate murderer of her friend, grimly obtains the evidence from an interrogation once more.

The full circle is that Prime Suspect has dealt with so many larger social issues: hatred of women, of black people, of immigrants (or racism), exploitation and abuse of homosexual men, boys; of the disparity of rich and poor, drug culture, sheer crazed psychopathy, colonialisms. It’s time to get in touch with our apparently more or less sane adult close-to-home issues again. Here one Sally is her parents’ world, she is champion of all, well-liked, outgoing cheerful as yet. They wanted to end in the inner circle where the larger problems first take shape.

Jane and Mr Tennison

In the first half I was almost unbearably moved. More than in “Scent of Darkness” (where Mirren as Jane’s affair with Stuart Wilson as Patrick is made nearly as important as the events of the police story), Jane is now brought to the center. Her drinking (she is now seen as alcoholic — her drinking is occurring not just in the lonely nights), her loneliness, her dying father (Frank Findlay brought back) are made the parallel plot for the police story where she also finds herself increasingly shut off. The father tells her what she does is not for him (she wants an expensive second opinion, cannot face he is dying and accept it) but for herself. We are to see that goes for why she has spent her life the way she has: she has felt genuinely useful.

She looks back on her life and finds she is not at all satisfied with what she did and what she has become. Need I say how I identified with this? I do think as a feeling it is common — a motivation for many an autobiography where people try to retrieve the loss and justify their lives to themselves. She is alcoholic and must control her drinking, goes to alcoholic anonymous where she sees Tom Ball. He has and she is at long last facing retiring: what she will do with herself she doesn’t know. She is not well enough to continue.

Talking together, much older, in non-pretentious cafeteria

A beautiful thing is they did get a few of the actors to return who were in the first programs. Frank Finlay was her father in 1991. He and she do look alike: the same gene pool comes out in their facial features. Tom Bell who was her rival-enemy Otley is back and we have an example of that truth that knowing one another over years in itself makes for bonds through memory; he too has slid into alcoholism we are asked to take it. A crushing loss is he gets involved in an altercation that Jane herself started and ratcheted up, and following hard upon her father’s death, Otley is killed. In fact this episode had far more moments of sheer panic than most of them as people saw their intimate assumptions and needs and lives gone haywire.

A note: Brendon Coyle who is given the difficult role of the masochistic Mr Bates in Downton Abbey is Jane’s boss (who tells her it’s time, she must retire) and he is very good in this role — his earlier career is in fact in detective, male-oriented programs: he is so differently photographed from Downton Abbey and Cranford that at first I did not recognize him.

The second half moved into the police procedural mode and this last time we had no larger issue but really an exposure of family pathologies, the lies schools use to cover up what teenagers’ real lives are, and at the close Jane finding she’d been fooled once again. She had not seen that it was Penny who killed her friend, Sally, partly because Sally was going to bed with Penny’s father, a person high in the school hierarchy and under much stress, Sean Philips (Stephen Tomkinson). This series has four sets of parents (family groups): Sally’s parents to whom the unbelievable must be face: their innocent daughter, has been having sex with a young black man, with a teacher, become pregnant and is now dead, gone forever. Their lives desolate, stunned, they must start again:

The first shock, the mother (Katy Murphy) comforted by a black man sitting next to her so calm

Penny’s where the mother is again stunned by the ordinary: her husband having an affair with her daughter’s friend, that daughter gone out of control:

Neither pair understands. The third family group is the young black man and his sister, and her child whom Sally had dumped herself on. He, violent because afraid (the chase scene occurred over his flight), his sister, his mainstay. The last set of parents or family-friend group is Jane Tennison’s: her mother never seen (ah), but father and sister there and towards the end a niece; Otley, killed, and yes the last police group she departs from.

The particular characters of this episode in the second half begin to realize what has happened, grow angry, bitter, and finally cope, Jane manages to control herself, curb the heavy drinking during the day; we are probably to applaud or feel her “confession” of drinking was right; for myself I saw her as again yielding to what she had to yield. Her sternness as a last turn towards the father who betrayed his student, daughter, wife, school, was appropriate though; towards Penny too, who in fact killed, followed the wrong impulse of resentment, envy and now is at a bleak loss.

Nothing lachrymose — the sadness of the first half was justified. And not overdone. And the bewilderment, anger and finally stoicism of the second simply spot on as what would or could be given what people had succumbed to.

And I loved the close. Sally’s parents saying goodbye to her, the father thanking her, she giving the cross to the mother, the two seen from the back clinging together. The office is giving Jane a final party and all are getting drunk and whooping it up. Does she go in there (as she did in the first episode’s triumph). No. She puts on her dark coat and walks sturdily, bravely into the night.


I liked these moments of quick sudden insight throughout the series

The feature attempted to have scenes from across the 15 years the series had been filmed. They rightly did congratulate themselves upon having made a serious drama with humane and relevant import, and absorbed us all the while. Entertained too: how I loved her affair with Stuart Wilson, her getting back, the excitement of her life, entered into her despair, her affairs, her decisions (as not to have a child), her aging, her peculiar strong humanity, decent values.

I’m really glad I bought the whole series. I could not have seen it properly otherwise. You do need to see all the episodes and you need to see them in the order they were done. This is Jane’s story, her life and the life of her police world as seen through her perceptions. As I told a friend on facebook, I don’t identify with Jane Tennison’s power but I do all her emotional stances and thus love the show and go to sleep feeling better for having watched her. This was why I so loved Poldark and the Poldark books: the stance of the hero was the same as this heroine: a loving renegade.


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