Posts Tagged ‘Prime Suspect’

Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand

Helen Mirren as Victoria (1979 The Long Good Friday, directed by John Mackenzie, written by Barrie Keefe, produced by Barry Hansen)

Dear friends and readers,

No one can re-boot this.

I try not to use hyped terms but am driven to one to convey the experience of this film even today: astonishing; this is an astonishing film. Made in 1979, released Nov 1980, even before the Thatcher era got underway, a gangster film (it was felt) was the appropriate vehicle for capturing how Margaret Thatcher saw the UK, what she wanted to turn the UK into, her own aggressive menacing role. Shand is Thatcher too.

The Long Good Friday is as edgy as Breaking Bad; I’d call it all edge:

Just before letting the assault weapons and bombs off

Its violence is as viscerally shocking

Slaughtering by accident, Jeff (Derek Thompson) whom Shand loves like a son

Shand orders all his franchise owners beaten up, hung like meat from hooks in a garage

Other older films that have transcended their time that come to mind: Robert Wise’s 1960 The Haunting. Both have perceptive voice-over commentary worth taking the time to listen. I mention this one because its means are so original and for the time the story. The Long Good Friday is utterly conventional in outline, including Mirren’s part as the gun-moll, mannered trophy wife.

What makes the experience on this level is Bob Hoskins. He transformed himself into this half-crazed deeply emotional man — a member of instance of the type Marlon Brando played. Also James Cagney who felt less controlled, more wild. Hoskins played with real subtlety or projecting power and also thought so that his face seemed to exude rage, anguish, retribution, indignation that he, this businessman, this patriot, he who was going to put Britain on the map was to be fleeced, cowed, forced to pay money to the IRA as a terrorist organization supporting itself by a protection racket. I have seen him as effective as Florio in the TV film made of Middleton’s Changeling.

About to be told he has to knuckle under

The music for its time daring: it’s a rolling, whirling pop rock, hard, percussive, lots of horns, with a band whose teams included John Williams. Raucous fun. For fun these people like to drink, live luxuriously, have beautiful sex partners, and blow one another up in cars on the race track. We’ve grown used to these equations. The film’s open attitude towards sex was not seen until a decade after the 21st century: of those murdered one of most sympathized with is a homosexual man.

the partner picking up an innocent (a young Kevin McNally) who will be murdered and carelessly thrown out of a car

What catapults the film into 2015, gives it a gravitas and political complexion is it turns out the “enemy” trying to destroy our protagonist-hero’s empire is the IRA here a terrorist Irish gang trying to extort large sums off this empire to fund itself. Our hero is usually successful in stamping out (literally) all opposition, but here he meets his match. He is told at one point, just give in, these people are “not interested in money, they are political” [whispered in a hysterical hushed kind of way), “fanatics” (equated, with a screech).

They are matched or behave just as the characters in the film who are members of the US gov’t, British politicians, other businessmen, Irish men too, all gangsters, all of them inside a competitive circle of violence. (As contrasted to Breaking Bad where the police are good guys.)

The role of women as mourning, weeping in graveyards, fiercely in white rages themselves, spitting at men’s faces so familiar from the Godfather begins here


On first watching it last week, I suspected it was part fable, but no it was true that in the IRA funded itself by terror tactics. Here is Helen Mirren in an interview about the film on the occasion of the film’s 35th anniversary. My friend Fran remarked:

Glad you enjoyed the film, Ellen. It made a big impression on me at the time and not only because of the great, nuanced character acting by Bob Hoskins in particular and its intelligent, mulit-layered and sometimes darkly humorous script. As you say, it’s a very edgy, very atmospheric film.

Up till then I hadn’t been aware that one of the reasons the IRA was so resistant to peace talks was neither religious not political, but rather the fact that they were in on a lot of the local crime and protection rackets and didn’t want things to change and lose all that. I wasn’t sure how much was fact or fiction, so asked a client of mine at the time, a young, non-violent, Catholic separatist from Belfast and he said this aspect was very true. If you had a local business or pub and paid them off, for example, you were safe from attacks.

The background to the making of the film also fits in with a few recent threads we’ve had like censorship. Its release date was delayed because the man whose company financed it, Lew Grade, a commercial TV magnate, wanted it heavily censored, massively cut and Hoskins‘ Cockney accent dubbed over (!). After a lot of wrangling, the film rights were eventually bought back and the film was fortunately released in its intended form.

You mention Mirren’s role being conventional for the most part, but she had to fight every inch of the way for it to be developed and given more weight, which fits in with the piece Diane linked on the marginalisation of women in film.

I’m just now reading an excellent book on the history of British Television Drama by Lez Cooke, which goes far to explain how this kind of explosive, socially conscious and nuanced art emerged on British TV and films in the 1980s; an area also covered in depth using specific (other) films, in Fires Were Started: British Cinema and Thatcherism (the title of a powerful documentary), an anthology edited by Lester Friedman. There are 6 substantial essays on Thatcher-era and ideology films: most of them critical-evaluative of her.

The feature on the DVD — a full hour – is worth watching, a paratext in itself about how they made the film, the techniques. Macenkie said he had James Cagney in mind when he thought of the core character of the film: the conception of Harold Shand. A man whose inner self and world is attacked and how he will not bend, yield, thniks he can beat out the terrorist group, persuade the businessmen and politicians. He finds he is wrong on all counts. Helen Mirren is truthful that she did not change her role that much, and had to fight for what she got; but she is active in the film — yes as hostess, smoothing Shand’s way, enabling him to be middle class, but an extraordinary moment is probably one that was created while shooting: after Shand has (see the still above) traumatically for himself murdered by accident his young son-like partner (rather like Rafe Sadler to Cromwell inn Wolf Hall more than Jesse to Mr White), Shand is in such a rage he rushes out to kill another man, and she comes out of the car where she has driven up, stands before him, runs after, pulls at him and he drags her on the grounds, up she gets and inserts her body in the way of his killing another friend, and all four physically intensely with two men on either side.

It’s an unforgettable sequence which I snapped because I thought it showed another aspect of this film: the spontaneous free-floating use of the camera, the director’s confidence to let people act out, and its ensemble nature:












She holds tight until he calms down

She vindicated herself in the role of the cop in Prime Suspect many years later. I don’t know what was her greatest role; she attempted so many parts, but I’d opt for her most memorable role as the abused beautiful wife in Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and her Lover, a shocking taboo-horror breaker.

In the feature Mackenzie makes it explicit the film is meant to embody Thatcher like ideas, especially in Shand, and they do go over the IRA part of the plot. A terrorist organization they say opposed to a capitalist thug. That’s the “two sides.” They don’t assert explicitly that the IRA was a protection racket was. Are content to imply this. I don’t have an idealization of the IRA but did not know they made money as thugs and gangsters. They do talk about the black humor of the action, motives of people, and desperate ending where Shand is driven off by an IRA assault-gun toting hit man. Pierce Brosnan who went on to have a commercially successful career remarks the ensemble nature of what they did: he didn’t have to learn any lines.

The title refers to the day the story takes place. Good Friday. Shand’s mother goes to church, and we see her there inbetween shots of the first two murders: the young man, the homosexual partner. London is beautifully filmed in color, without cliched icons. Mackenzie projects an opulence on the docks for Shand and his wife, and he says he looked forward to the coming buildup. The shots are some of them picturesque and glittering:


The feature also tells the story of the cowardice of the BBC as well as the American attempt to utterly emasculate (wretched connotations, but what can one do) the text. Hoskins brought suit; it was Hoskins whose career was on the line — it was also sheer snobbery on the part of the BBC and American TV company who were embarrassed by his accent. Hoskins could have destroyed himself utterly by suing. Ronald Colman’s career never recovered when he sued, though it’s true the studios were all powerful in the 1940s. Hoskins just was found and discovered and became a know great actor sheerly on the strength of his talent — and of course social abilities too. Mirren came the trained upper middle crowd even if she likes to try to connect herself to gangsters … She wouldn’t had she really been part of such a family.

Here’s Roger Ebert:

Shand is an evil, cruel, sadistic man. But he’s a mass of contradictions, and there are times when we understand him so completely we almost feel affectionate. He’s such a character, such an overcompensating Cockney, sensitive to the slightest affront, able to strike fear in the hearts of killers, but a pushover when his mistress raises her voice to him … He’s an operator. He’s a con man who has muscled his way to the top by knowing exactly how things work and what buttons to push, and now here he is, impotent before this faceless enemy. “The Long Good Friday” tells his story in a rather indirect way, opening with a montage of seemingly unrelated events, held together by a hypnotic music theme.

And Screen Online

For while Hoskins’ Harold Shand’s gangland empire is recognisably in the mould of the notorious Kray brothers’ 1960s reign, his brand of ruthless, thrusting capitalism makes him an archetype, albeit an exaggerated one, for the Thatcher government’s enthusiastic sponsorship of individual enterprise (in a bid for legitimacy, Shand calls his domain the Corporation). This parallel is reinforced by Harold’s choice of London’s then still largely derelict Docklands area for his ambitious business project – anticipating the massive investment that transformed that region during the 1980s.

Like Berg’s Lulu, this is contemporary art, speaking to us today. What then was the difference? Mackenzie and Keefe’s film has a felt moral perspective; the characters display affection, loyalty, tenderness towards those they are bonded with (admittedly only a few); so too Breaking Bad. And neither is misogynistic.

The famous ending of White Heat (1951) where cornered at last, Cagney sets fire to an explosive tank and goes out crying “Top of the world, Ma!”

While his fierce mother’s view of him is a driving force within the character, the most memorable gendered moments are the menacing tensed fights between Cagney and his wife-moll, Virginia Mayo, who seeks to escape him when in his downfall his behavior terrifies her


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Dear friends and readers,

Some nine days ago I put Anthony Trollope’s satiric newspaper article, “The Uncontrolled Ruffianism of London” on my website and described its immediate context on my blog as preface to a review of Emelyne Godfrey’s Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence … . It’s one of the many many intriguing documents Godfrey discusses in this, her companion volume to her earlier equally original Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society (see Caroline Reitz’s review in Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, 59-60 [2011]).

Both books, taken together, depict the era in which modern crime fiction (mysteries, police procedurals) developed as one of the responses to the growth of large cities where crowds of people unknown to one another live in close proximity; others are new permutations in norms for middle-class masculinity (as these are men who had to walk or today at least drive and take public transportation in said cities) and defensive tactics for women who feel themselves at risk or want to participate aggressively too. The root is the very paranoia that Trollope unerringly describes and partly mocks in his timely article.

“I struck him again and again” (from Femininity, Crime & Self-Defence)

In a nugget, Godfrey is looking at crime from the point of view of the city-goer, using popular writing and images and activities (clubs, educational groups), works of popular playwrights and texts by two literary geniuss: Anthony Trollope and Arthur Conan Doyle. Richard Sennett is an important source for her fundamental bases: Sennett (whom she quotes at key points) says modern cities are structured so as to have public spaces where the threat of social contact between upper, middle and lower classes is minimalized — they are planned to keep middling citizens from the “underclass” (the under- and unemployed, the poverty-striken, those driven into criminal and violent activites), but these breaches are easy to cross (p. 3). There are just so many pedestrians, commuters all higgedly-piggedly hurrying along. A fear of exposure emerges, a horror of injury.

Godfrey studies a popular movement then (and there is an equivalent one now), partly paranoic, of self-defense seen in the way male violence is depicted in the era. There is the question of what is a socially acceptable masculine behavior: self control and self-restraint were and still are part of the upper class gentleman ethos; the problem arises that men therefore may see themselves as potential victims as well as perpetrators of crime. When she looks at the interiority of male heroes you find a restrained flamboyancy; sartorial restraint is a index of modesty, reserve, manliness, professionalism. Godfrey has studied a slew of books on the history of respectable fear and where this comes from, on media panic, on figures she calls “men of blood” (violent men who yet stay within legal bounds, e.g., Trollope’s Lord Chiltern in his Palliser books. She looks at male anxieties and some of the weirder deadly instruments that were developed — like the truncheon Phineas Finn ill-advisedly carries with him (“the life-preserver”) in Phineas Redux.

Middle class respectable men were also supposed to protect women from men imagined on the attack. Novels in the era dramatize the maltreatment of women, e.g., Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall; Trollope repeatedly uses trope of animal cruelty to depict a ruthless male; the most typical opening of a Conan Doyle Holmes story is a gentlewoman comes to Holmes for protection.

Everyone remembers John Thaw’s magnificent performance in the film adaptation of Sign of Four, but the story opens with the elegantly dressed Jenny Seagrove, all anxiety, come to Mr Holmes for help.

The later 19th century is a period of wide-spread investigations into methods of self-defense. She divides her book. Part 1 covers hitherto neglected plays popular among middle class audiences. Part 2 is a study of Trollope’s exploration of masculinity in the large political novels which take place in cities and show the importance of a measured response to aggression. Part 3 reveals the Sherlock Holmes narratives as a collection of lessons expressive of Doyle’s views on reasonable force in response to violent crime; they too promote the cause of measured self-defense for gentlemen. One new element emerged for me: I had not realized how frequently the Holmes stories focus on uses of weapons, many of them cruelly wounding.

Henry Ball’s belt-buckle pistol of 1858, Royal Armories, Leeds

Anti-garotte collar and advertisement

Part I (Chapters 1 & 2) tell of the xenophobia (“foreign crimes” hit British shores) and class fears that led to the build-up of myths around a phenomenon that did occur but not with the frequency claimed: the garrotting people. Godfrey begins her book with singularly cruel execution in Cuba in 1852: a man was strangled to death in a wooden chair while an iron collar passed around his neck screwed ever tighter; his windpipe is crushed (p 19). Garrotta was the name for this kind of capital punishment and in a twist became used by robbers; you threatened to strangle your victim to death. There were such incidents on London streets where people began increasingly relying on police protection: a 1st incident is recorded 12 Feb 1851.

Godfrey looks at the panic from a literary angle, and debates in texts about nature of middle class heroism. She discusses the 1857 play by C.J. Collins’s Anti-Garrotte, a farce which reveals how reports build an awareness of such crimes; in a later unlicensed play, The Garrotters by William Whiffles, a man feels dread reading about all these strangulation robberies (p 21). The 1853 Penal Servitude Act that allowed more convicts to be given tickets of leave helped justify paranoia; these were conditional pardons for good behavior, with the person released in the UK instead of Australia — such convicts became associated with garrotters. Descriptions appeared in magazines: a 3 people act; Henry Wilkinson Holland interviewed thieves; here were articles on house-breaking equipment which anticipate Holmes uses to break into residences (panel cutter, crobars, skeleton key, lanterns). Later American readers had Wm D Howells’ play The Garrotters (1890s). Anti-immigration and racial fears (terms like “thuggees”) feelings were stirred so for religiously-dressed motivated Indians who carried a scarf (a rumal) were called “noose-operators.” Mid-Victorian novel, Confessions of a Thug (189), our evil Arab, Ameer Ali robs and kills for gain, but he also takes life for sport and exploits and murders anyone showing him kindness. Murder by strangulation is part of the imagined point; in an interview a female thuggee takes pride in having killed 21 people. Fear that exhibit in British Museum teaches these criminal types how to perform such evil crimes

Misogyny plays into this too: a recent book by Neil Story concludes most garrotters were female (ex-prostitutes). A modern film, The world is Not Enough presents Pierre Brosnan as a James Bond tortured by a garrotting woman. (11 years earlier Nicholas Meye’s The Deceivers presented Brosnan as Wm Savage, a British thuggee hunter learning art of manipulating the rumal.) It should be said there were no statistics on female victims.

Tellingly Richard Sennett is quoted suggesting that the fear of exposure leads to a militarized conception of everyday experience as attack and defense. In Phineas Redux Trollope suggests there was a run on life-preservers The Times described a weapon called an anti-garrotte glove; this was a gauntlet fortified with claws, hooks, blades. Some of these show people felt immediate killing or maiming someone else in self-defense as personal protection just fine (p 46). Another recent book, by Rob Sindall (Street Violence in the 19th Century) argues the panic was self-induced and over-wrought. Tom Browns’ Schooldays presented the middle class male ideal and shows concerns over middle class young man’s ability to defend himself. Clerks felt in danger, and acted on norms of self help, independence, masculine self-control — victims becomes feminized (as in the rape in Kleist’s famous novel). Delirium tremens seen as shaming the victim. She notes that Emily Bronte’s novel has many weapons; Gaskell showed that the Rev Bronte kept arms.

[This is utterly germane to our world in the US today where it seems to be open season on young black men since Zimmerman got away with murder: or maybe it’s that those of us who were unaware of how black men are regarded as dispensable, attacked with impunity on the grounds the person was made anxious (really) are no longer ignorant. Trollope’s article remains sceptical, ironic: he does not say there are no ruffians in the streets, but the man who lives in terror of this as an epidemic, acquires a weapon, is perhaps more in danger from the weapon being taken from him (how modern this argument is, just substitute the word gun for truncheon).]

In Chapter 3 is ostensibly on the Ticket of Leave man, Godfrey studies Victorian
obsessions over middle-class (white) masculine fitness as an index to “the health of nation” and how such ideas stoked fascination with street violence. Images formed in melodrama were deployed to create a garrotter-villain on stage: he’d have a black face, wrinkles, would be degenerate. All in contrast to new middle class ideals of civilized behavior; the magazine All the Year Round insisted there was a link between crime and disease. In this context ticket-of-leave men are seen as belonging to an abject group, who also are involved in a “tide of sewage, disease, and cholera” outbreaks.

Trollope’s is not the only sane voice: Henry Mayhew interviews convicts to show their difficulties in finding work, how they suffer false re-arrests (Stop and frisk anyone?); and Mayhew gives an account of a garrotting supposedly from the point of view of the criminal; the problem here is his story implies garrotters and convicts are the same people (p 31.). Two 19th century plays, the well-known Tom Taylor’s Ticket of Leave Man reveals society’s prejudice to develop sympathy for the rehabilitation of Robert Brierly, duped into a forgery scheme; this play was broadcast in 1937, and revived in Victoria theater, 1966 — the archetypal heart of the story is a good character thrown into bad situation.

Another play, Ticket of Leave has good and bad ticket-of-leave men. One Bottles, disguised as butler plans to garrot and rob his master, Mr Aspen Quiver. A wrongly accused convict saves Mr Quiver; again the play does not address false misconceptions. One famous attack in 1862 on Hugh Pilkington (MP for Blackburn) helped lead to a call for the old system to be put back in place. A Director of Prisons, Joshua Jebb, tried to express his support for ticket-of-leaved men. but draconian security measures against violence were passed in an act of 1863 that stipulated flogging.

Part 1 ends with a chapter about the weapons people carried, how several publications, most notably Punch made fun of these and (like Trollope) suggested the person in more danger than the garrotter by carrying such a weapon. There are plays where farcically we see characters over-estimate the danger and react hysterically to information received in the papers. There really were spiked collars, with self-injury the most likely result. Godfrey suggests articles in magazines register a perceived reader’s reluctance to depend on a perceived incompetent police force. Urban heroes those who supported and aided the police; you were supposed to remain calm; you fight back with similar weapons. Gradually what emerged was a civilizing offensive, an adoption of violence adverse perspective; over-arming seen as form of hysteria, but onus on individual to protect himself.

“Life-preservers” (so-called), like the one Phineas carries and imagines himself threatening Bonteen with at their club door (see Ruffianism)

Part II: Anthony Trollope : aggression rewarded and punished, 1867-87

A dramatized scene from Phineas Finn

Chapter One is called threats from above and below, fighting for franchise and concentrates on Phineas Finn and Phineas Redux. Some notes: Phineas’s response to violence affects social standing and political career; the question of what is a gentleman important in the novels; Trollope puts forward Phineas as an ideal of gentlemanliness: social grace, innate goodness. Political action in Phineas Finn is complicated by the question of what is appropriate aggression and what shows one’s fitness to vote (Trollope not a democrat). While we see politically motivated violence, Trollpoe distrusts political violence because he suggests it uses political ideal as a cloak. This is placing the cart before the horse (p 65), but the Times agreed: the legitimate citizen was not a man of the crowd (p 66). While Trollope is looks at the problem of bellicosity in all its aspects (a duke can be as violent as a collier, e.g, Chiltern and Kennedy) and suggests women do not forgive blows (p. 67); it is the pedestrian’s encounter with crime that is the focus of the Palliser series as a whole.

Chiltern heading for the duel

Phineas waiting

The duel

Trollope in his earlier phases seems pro-duel (p. 68): Godfrey goes over the history of attitudes towards duelling swiftly: it was always at odds with rule of law, but the first successful murder prosecution of a duellist was in 1838 (p 71): the voiced Victorian objection was a man left his family destitute. Trollope‘s depiction does, however, throughout betray a nostalgia for outmoded code of honor. His Chiltern resists the new cultural changes, and we are asked to see that when he can channel his violence into hunting, it is a splendid gift for providing healthy and even egalitarian (so Trollope argues though he knew how expensive it was) sports for men. Phineas reluctance is carefully not motivated by cowardice; Trollope means to show us that a man’s bravery need not depend on weapons; Phineas shows bravery and coolness in the face of death; he shoots up into the air, no murderer. The duel in Trollope is also a male secret, a male rite of passage (p 75); but we see how Phineas leaves himself open to Quintus Slide, to blackmail and finally an accusation of murder as a man of blood.

Brooding Kennedy

Chapter 5: Lord Chiltern and Mr Kennedy are two violent poles. Chiltern is the unrestrained man of blood, he should exercise more self-control, there’s a lack of manliness in not being self-controlled; but violence in Chiltern stems from lack of purpose and frustration (p 78); fox hunting allows him to use and master his finer senses – there are fears here too of the over-sexed male; Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wilfell Hall is anti-hunting. Godfrey points out that Children’s fiery temper does not harm him and men need physical confidence to survive.

Phineas too saves Kennedy, and the scene in Phineas Finn is based on a real life incident in 1862 sparking garrotting panic (pp.83-86). Trollope here seems for citizens arrest, and Phineas’s protection of Kennedy exemplary (by inference though Kennedy seen as impotent male who does not sexually satisfy his wife either). The norm here seems to be that the ideal (male) citizen does not actively seek confrontation, but exercises judgement (the right to bear arms is not the point). In Phineas Redux, he learns that you do not openly threaten, that weapons themselves are endanger people — he becomes too wrathful in his own disillusion and disappointment. His encounters with with Bonteen parallel encounters in earlier book; hunting scenes are parallel; this time Phineas hurts his horse, but this time frustration, his exclusion and feelings of inadequacy erupt. As ever Trollope is intrigued by what precipitates violent turn in human nature (p 108): what really unites all these stories is the male characters are driven into violence by a combination of what is expected of them as men (success) and what is thrown at them (scorn). Godfrey finds a parallel in the treatment of the cloak in Trollope’s Phineas Redux and one of Conan Doyle’s stories; more important is that Conan Doyle restricts his dramatization of males in psychological pain to the men Sherlock Holmes investigates and indites so that the latter series implicitly criminalizes what Trollope presents as part of his heroes’ behavior. (See my Heterosexual heroism in Trollope.)

Stuart Wilson endows Ferdinand Lopez with a pained humiliated expression on his face before breaking out into threatened violence against his wife

There is in Phineas Redux and The Prime Minister a fascination with the murderous life–preserver (as we shall see fascination in Sherlock Holmes with exotic weapons) and other more usual weapons (whips). Interestingly, Godfrey likens Phineas wounded by lack of status, rank, respect with Dickens’s Bradley Headstone’s hatred of Eugene Wrayburn (in Our Mutual Friend) — but not Ferdinand Lopez’s; of course both books are virulent with antisemitism in the portraits of the whip-threatening Lopez and Emilius who does cravenly murder Bonteen from behind. So finally, as opposed to his newspaper article (“Ruffianism”), Trollope takes a stern, not comic approach, to the wielding of deadly weapons.


The Adventure of Abbey Grange — beautifully brings all motifs together, woman needing protection, sadistic cruelty, flamboyant defenses

Part III: Physical Flamboyance in Holmes Canon (1887-1914): on Holmes and martial arts continued in comments section 3.

The conclusion and assessment of a change of norms in the era in comments section 4.


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Michelle Dockery looking lovely at this years’ Emmy awards (the 65th ceremony): Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey; Katherine, Shakespeare’s Henry V’s queen, in an upcoming Great Performances

Dear readers and friends,

I’ve been working on a paper on Andrew Davies’s two film adaptations of Trollope novels (The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right), and was able to read some of what will be published in the coming volume and came across the (to me) intriguing phrase, “a television novel” used of Downton Abbey and The House of Eliot in a paper on serialized drama. The author was quoting an analysis of types of serials by Michael Hammond (Contemporary TV series/serials).

The phrase charmed me and I thought the differentiation of types of narratives useful. There are three basic useful ways one can divide them (the paper has other divisions) and look at the serials as novels. There are the closed ones, serials which have definite closure and an ending since they are based on already extant novels (The Forsyte Saga, The Pallisers, Poldark; all the Austen movies); there are the open-ended with self-contained episodes where we meet characters who dominate a particular week and are never seen again with the continuing characters and place providing a minimum of background continuity (Duchess of Duke Street, and in the earlier seasons, Upstairs Downstairs); then there is the series which is open-ended, has some self-contained story arcs, but also story arcs which not only cross an entire season but are continuous from season to season (Downton Abbey, West Wing, apparently The Sopranos).

I extrapolate: in novels the first type is found inside a single novel (Vanity Fair by Thackeray). The kind of omnibus volumes with a couple of central characters whose stories are important to but where the emphasis is on this week’s or this story’s or this novel’s characters to be set adrift after you shut the book is found in Sherlock Holmes and typical mystery series, also Prime Suspect (which however also developed the central female detective’s story marginally and occasionally centrally too. The second type: open-ended with self-contained episodes or stories, characters who dominate a given book and then disappear for the most part describes Trollope’s narrative art in his Barsetshire and Palliser series. The third type where emphasis is placed on continuing characters and each novel is part of a continuing storyline reminds me of the Poldark novels, or Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time.

It fundamentally changes the experience of a written novel which is tightly structured to turn it into a serial drama — the way so many Austen books are filmed.

Typical shot of Lucy Liu as Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes

I tried to watch the first episode of this year’s Elementary because I so liked the new Sherlocks on PBS with Bernard Cumberbatch and Martin Friedman and very much like Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram and Mr Knightley (Mansfield Park 1999, Emma 2009) as well as the intensely neurotic types he played on Prime Suspect. He did not disappoint: the character has again been partly reconceived, this time the emphasis on edginess, something coming near breakdown or cracking (coming close to Friedman’s brilliant embodiment of Watson) while the new Holmes character in his down-and-out dowdy wintry clothes, nonetheless holds up and does all the marvelous sleuthing, ratiocinative thinking and talk (Miller is superb at this talk).

Don’t be fooled: this is no more feminist than the recent Sherlocks. Lucy Liu as can be seen in the above and many other stills is Holmes’s secondary side-kick and follower. She is violent all right — this is the series’s stupid idea of making her masculine, but there to feed him lines, fill out the scene in the way of the Conan Doyle’s Watson or the Watson of the Jeremy Brett series.

The pair on a NYC bench

But I only managed a half an hour. The program was so larded with commercials I gave up after half an hour. It might be a fun TV novel but was not being given a chance to breathe, to have any extension without interruption. It’s a shame for here is a program which does not celebrate wealth, gregariousness, conventional glamor and success. He’s troubled; his brother Mycroft turns up having taken over Sherlock’s flat and gotten rid of Sherlock’s things, replaced them with soulless fashionable furniture.


Rhys Ifan as Mycroft

In this case it’s the look of the stills, the caught moments in front of famous statues in their scruffy clothes with their worn faces that makes the series intriguing more than anything. I shall have to wait until it’s produced as a set of DVDs and ask someone to buy me them for Xmas and then try to watch for real. I did not know that Gielgud played (read aloud on radio) Holmes, and I’d never have recognized Hugh Laurie in that make-up: favorite Sherlocks (perversely omitting Basil Rathbone).

New translations of works continually renew our understanding of them: a great or fine or merely archetypally engaging and popular work which is understood by its first audience in a specific way may not pick up much that is in the work, especially popular understandings; the author may not see all that is there. Yes what grows up around a work becomes part of it; it’s not written in a vacuum in the first place. So too film adaptations work this way, and literary criticism adds its insights.

In the specific area of Holmes films — there are a huge number, possibly more than for Dracula or Frankenstein, especially if you count each film per story as one. In the volume my paper on the Pallisers was published in (Victorian Literature, Film Adaptations, edd Bloom & Pollock) is a paper by Tamara Wagner on the Sherlock Holmes canon. She examines what I suggest can’t stand real scrutiny: she suggests that the Basil Rathbone series are no more accurate than say the Jeremy Brett ones; 1940 is not 1890 and the audience these were intended for were a preWW2 post WW1 audience. For me the imaginative realization that is closest to the text as I imagined it will probably be the Jeremy Brett: that tells something of my age. The Cumberbatch are too devoid of any feminism and there is much feminism of the Edwardian protective sort in the originals (think of the back story of “Hound of the Baskervilles, 17th century girl kidnapped, raped in an upstairs room by rakes for fun). I enjoy these new version for what they shed a new light on: the relationship of Watson to the stories (his psyche) and then Holmes secondarily, and what they show us about our era. Miller and Liu mean to react against worship of luxury, money, rank, but they substitute a new set of somewhat absurd fetishes: drugs and depression as flare.

Trying to read James Redding Ward’s Female Detective: a very early set of detective stories (1862), with (as the title indicates): a female detective, Ward in convincing drag — these center on women’s world and their real distresses, vulnerability, blighted lives

I’ve been trying to watch TV in the evenings because I’m now alone and too tired to read all night or even watch a movie with attention. TV invites a relaxed approach. Alas, I get too relaxed and continually fall asleep so I can’t say I’m succeeding. Jim says (he still can understand what I’m doing and comment wittily) I’m bored. I don’t think so; it’s more that there are too many programs on, most of which is junk and when I do find something I think I might like, I often don’t understand what’s happening since the series moves too swiftly, relies far too much on intuitive memories of cliches and stereotypes so the program makers need only allude to a kind of incident or story rather than dramatize anything at length; the dialogue is so naturalistic, I can’t catch what the characters are saying. I do better with older series (Inspector Morse) or say watching a classic drama: Shakespeare’s Richard II last Friday was superb, and I mean to watch Henry IV Part 1 tomorrow night.

I’ve noticed these mystery type genres have taken over serial dramas on the so-called better channels. My view is this supposed masculine plot-driven active sub-genre is a mask for revealing deeply troubled private material of our society. And Ward is doing that. This is part of the gothic mode. Women have been relegated to private life; to hide our private lives under some regimes of law allows beatings, killing, horrible exploitation as women are shamed and terrified into silence. So to see a woman detective is liberating.

I can stay awake for news and some kinds of documentaries: for Amy Goodman and DemocracyNow.org on the Howard University Channel, Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff’s PBS news hour, David Attenborough and his worlds of animals. Amusingly they keep telling me they’ll see me next time, when it’s I who see them; they do not see me. With the documentaries on commercial channels there is the problem of continual intrusions of signs on the screen (visual ads), to say nothing of quick successive many commercials. I know the so-called program is supported as an excuse for ads and there is care taken lest the program have any values which run counter to the ads. The ideology of TV is in the continual advertisements intertwined with everything, one another no matter how ludicrously inappropriate the juxtapositions are; even PBS does it: corporate sponsorship it’s called there. TV is flow; you turn it on like a faucet and the water pours away and I find I have trouble entering this flood. What’s sold is a false picture of prosperity and success through entrepreneurship, desire for goods one does not need but give prestige; goods which deliver youth, health, popularity, social success. I try my best to ignore them but they are very loud and viscerally aggressive.

Lady Sybil (Deborah Brown Findlay), in the fiction of the show, now gone with Matthew Crawley, William Mason (footman, Daisy’s husband and Lavinia Swire (Matthew’s bethrothed) (all in the burial grounds)

Gentle reader, what would your definition of a TV novel be? It comprises far more than a narrative form. Something within that holds us into its world.

Downton Abbey starts on British TV next week. It’s been promoted for weeks, with continual stills released, a new Behind the Scenes with book — on heavy art paper with lots of beautiful photographs. If you count these couple of weeks, and then at least 13 episodes until Christmas, and then the same 13 run on US TV, then the re-runs and release of the scripts, the show goes on all year long. Not that I mind. It’s to my aesthetic taste. I loved the way Dockery looked at the Emmys: better than any other woman there, her costume redolent of an earlier time in the 20th century, I would be surprised if the costume designer of Downton Abbey didn’t have a hand in it. I watched the speeded-up YouTube covering the season to come jokily

I’m happy to see Anna (Joanne Froggart) back with a spiffy hat, complete with brown velvet ribbon:


To me Cora, Duchess (Elizabeth McGovern) is beautifully ethereal if far too thin (semi-anorexia allows her to take on a younger kind of older woman):


And I hope Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) comes into her own as journalist, mistress of the proprietor, a Jane Eyre character as seen by a complacent reactionary Tory (Jerome Fellowes): here she is contemplative and not anorexic at all:


Yes as with a novel I’ve bonded with these characters (as I did with Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison). I don’t miss Dan Stevens as I never bonded with his character: he was too much into compromise and conventionality. I hope a less centrally wholesome male will emerge (but with Fellowes I doubt he would allow a hero to be a Jonny Lee Miller type). Thomas the footman might take a lover. I hope. Ethel get her baby back as she learns to be this splendid cook. I’d say I’ll miss Miss Obrien (Siobhan Finneran) with her scepticism subverting the Dowager’s, but she was so often a target of misogyny (as Finneran said she was tired of being contemptible). And there’s Daisy (with her father-in-law and farm), Mrs Hughes (wry, sceptical but hard) and Mrs Patmore (who can make me cry) — these women have not been similarly promoted with beautiful photographs — showing the tenacious hierarchy of the creator’s mind. At any rate I have tonight cheered myself by remembering them too and their mostly lucky (rich as they are) stories. It may be that the character who will make me cry for real is Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) mourning the death of her beloved son — look at her face, it’s being held together.

with the Dowager Violet, Lady Crawley (Maggie Smith)

How lonely life is going to be for me.


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Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) finding one of the girls fleeing in a wood

I watched this film for the first time last night. It’s an important film which I hope more people saw than I fear did (I suspect it was not a mass entertainment even if it played in mainstream cinemas). It’s a kind of Helen Mirren Prime Suspect film made more realistic and done with ensemble type acting. I’m only a year late (it’s a 2011 film) for a review, and trafficking is as pervasive as ever, plus collusion and downright activity by those who are supposed to stop it themselves doing it.

In her usual gear

Rachel Weisz plays the part of a American (mid-western) police woman who simply will not not do her job; she has real integrity and will not go through the motions pretending in order to collect a salary and remain prestigously within the group. She goes to Bosnia fora career advancement (yes) and also to do good work in an environment where she might be really needed. One night she encounters a group of beaten prostitutes who look terrible and understands that these are trafficked women; one is very sick. She attempts to send the
one to the hospital and the others to safety. She is just one person; while she is taking the group herself to a safe hospice, she cannot be in the hospital; she goes there to discover that the girl cannot be sent home because she lacks papers. Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovac is never for a moment put off by such patent lies. She replies, so what? we’ll get her papers. No we can’t do this, the rules say … She finds herself up against a wall. She returns to the hospice to
discover the girls have been returned to the bar.

Unlike Jane Tennison who then would have to go through a long plot to discover that there are paid kick-backs everywhere (which come to think of it shows her were we thinking realistically to be very dim), Kathryn immediately sees that they were returned by the UN peacekeeping authorities because at least one person, probably more was taking a kick-back. What she has to learn (and without much trouble) is that many are taking bribes, and many of the men who are peacekeepers are the very men buying these women and abusing them under the guns and whips and other hard mean weapons of the women’s keepers.

Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave)

The plot-design of the story is then three-fold, and is a realistic mirror (reminding me of Five Days where the mirror was a domestic life situation of lower middle class people in the UK). It was not to discover that (in the words of Madeleine Rees, or Vanessa Redgrave, who again has chosen to be in this kind of exposing movie — Coriolanus‘s this), that “those hired “to protect the vulnerable are raping them themselves”, buying and selling them themselves. This is put before us again and again in the evidence, as vignettes, incidents we see as simply obvious.

It’s rather to show us as watchers how formidable is the opposition to putting a stop to the traffic. We see this in each of the groups Kathryn tries to contact.

It is also to show us the realities of Kathryn’s life and how this is part of why she does what she does and how this private life of hers can get in the way or the police life change her private life. And to show us the girls being ruthlessly beaten, humiliated, tortured, and to put before us photos of these girls.

Raya when first seen (Roxana Condurache)

The movie opens with how one specific girl, Raya, was brought into these groups: one night she was out late with a friend, got involved sexually with someone, her friend pressured her to come out after the time she was due home. She went home and got into a quarrel with her mother, and then ran out into the night. That was the end of her life; the next time we see her she’s in a bar and is one of the girls that Kathryn encounters. To make the story effective the movie focuses on one girl’s story.

We see her mother is contacted by Kathryn or representations, how she begs money from her other daughter to go to the hospital. How the other daughter is beaten by her husband and is afraid to give her mother money (it’s not hers). But she does it. How the mother is too late. Then in a later scene we see the mother home again reviling the daughter as a cruel sister for this second daughter’s husband was the man who enabled the boyfriend that night to kidnap Raya.

As in Story 6 of Prime Suspect (“the Last Suspect”), like Helen Mirren, Kathryn has promised to keep the vulnerable girl, here Raya, safe. After Raya is snatched back, we see her dragged before the girls, thrown on a table, & knifed in the back (not killed but just scarred for life) before the other girls to show them what will happen if they try to talk to police or are willing to testify. So like Tennison, who loses first one sister to a brutal killing (and then the other alas), Kathyn is driven to make good on her promise somehow. In a scene near the end of the movie, at last Kathryn reaches one man who will raid the bar &promises not to return the girls. Once there though another group of men rush in, override this man and his crew, and Kathryn seeing Raya begs her in front of everyone to come away with her. Raya is too frightened and refuses. Later that night the same man who led the group in knifing her, takes her before the other girls and simply shoots her through the head.

She has become the lover of one man early in the film and he remains a confidant. We are told in a series of intertitles at the end of the film how all we have seen is real (just souped up for drama), how the real Kathryn now lives with Jan in the Netherlands. Apparently it was not safe to return to the US or Jan, this man’s name, was Dutch and wanted to stay in the Netherlands. A small part of the ammunition against Kathryn (this suggests this kind of loss of reputation does not count as much as women might fear) is her private life. She lives freely and has lovers. Goes to bars herself. But as an upper class (it’s understood in context) white American woman. In one interview a superior tries to needle her about a second story the movie opens with: her ex-husband has custody of her daughter. She was deemed less fit than he; he made more money; he could provide a conventional home with a stay-at-home wife/mother.

Kathryn lives in another state from him and one motive for going to Bosnia was the larger salary which could enable her to move back near her daughter. We see her job get in the way of keeping promises to her daughter to go to this or that occasion. So her story includes separation from her daughter and loss and one motive for her wanting to help Raya is she identifies with Raya’s mother (she says “I keep seeing Raya’s mother”). She also is enacting the mother she did not in US circumstances. This is parallel with Mirren who has had abortions and tries to be a mother where her job and wider usefulness and the life she wanted to lead would not permit her to have a baby, especially without a husband, a kind of relationship Jane did not really want.

The opposition. Those trafficking. Those using the women sexually, brutally. This provides the real action of the film, the hinge-points, the stages of excitement and danger. We see how gradually Kathryn is cut down. She is demoted, She goes to this or that chief officer and realizes very quickly they are protecting their men (and themselves too perhaps). Madeleine Rees (Redgrave) and Peter, another of these very few males who help women stop the trafficking, in effect Rees’s side-kick helper, are frustrated by what happens to Kathryn.

Peter (David Strathairn)

After Kathryn realizes one cannot working within the system (well, duh), and writes an email outside to a high official in a UK embassy, her ID and keys are taken away from her. She is now not just fired, but cannot go into the building to get her files. She must sneak in. She tries to get a woman friend to help her but the woman friend says I’m not you, I won’t risk my job. All do keep telling her it’s not safe, but like Mirren as Tennison, Weisz as Bolkovac seems to lead a charmed life. We might say fairy tale, but in fact Kathryn Bolkavac survived. (Part of the power of this film is it’s a real story transposed into action drama.) Well we see Peter help her.

A crucial turning point occurs as she is walking out of the building with her papers. We see Fred Murray (David Hewlett), aone of the lead man who fired her with Peter and Peter appears to have double-crossed her. She must turn over the bag. But they talk and Murray sneers at her. A few seconds later (scenes are short), Peter comes from behind to give her the bag. He was enabling her to get a tape of this man’s voice as part of her evidence when she returns to the UK.

There we see the interviews on TV with Bill Hynes head UN man (Liam Cunningham) who denies all complicity (as he said he would in another scene). He justifies this in a separate scene as enabling the UN to carry on. But what is it carrying on for? We also are told by him how much money is at stake, how the companies behind much that goes on in Bosnia of a money-making nature are Bosnian, and we know it’s his job.

We then see Kathryn on TV accusing Hynes of lying. The judge does side with Bolkovac (as happened in real life) and we are told (intertitles) all the specific individuals found guilty where deported back to their original countries. But no one was imprisoned, no one punished. And then we are given the huge numbers of people involved in trafficking and enslaved that continues on.

The acting does not bring Rachel Weisz so very centrally to the camera; we do not dwell on her nor on her life interwoven in the same way as Prime Suspect. There are a number of scenes (of Raya’s life, of Raya’s mother’s actions, of the girls’ lives either beaten, or in the bars, or Weisz’s eyes going over the photographs (reminding me of a film by Bergman where Liv Ullmann’s eyes go over photos and a narrative emerges) where Kathryn is not the central point of view.
Most of the time in Prime Suspect, Mirren is. That’s how they keep the plot-design a mystery. But the effect is very good as we feel a real sense of a large world on the screen. Weisz is herself a fierce presence, she has subtlety when needed, is tender, is of a wiry build (so has the requisite thinnness wanted of younger actresses). I feared for
her again and again. So that held me. I cared about her.

A portrait shot of her concerned and talking to another woman

I do like Weisz because of the films she’s in. My students learn a lot from The Constant Gardener; I learned a lot from Agora, neither of whom survived. Agora did exist for real and she survived a bit longer than Tessa, but then she was upper class, attached to upper class men.

I also cared intensely about Raya who is last seen dead, with wounds all over her body, in rags in the wood. Prime Suspect often opened on a scene like this. The wounded murdered corpse of a woman badly dressed.

And about the other girls whose voices, faces, bits of presence emerged now and again.

It’s no coincidence this is a film directed by a woman (Larysa Kondracki), written by a woman (Eilis Kirwan), centrally produced by three women (Amy Kaufman, Christina Piovesan, Celina Ratray). The men in the film every once in a while dismiss the trafficked women as whores. That word is enough. They are now without status.

Thinking about it brought home to me why I found a book like
Nussbaum’s Rival Queens (which I reviewed, and which review I will put online after it’s published) in such bad taste; & what’s wrong with books like Pullen’s Actresses and Whores (which unlike, Nussbaum’s seeks to upgrade the status of whores I will concede (Nussbaum just wants to separate her star actresses from prostitutes). Also those many online sites where feminists who want to stop prostitution are scorned and told they are imposing their prurient values on a profession that makes money and these girls chose and even do well at. Nussbaum, Pullen, and many others who insist on distinguishing courtesans from prostitutes. This so that they can write with admiration and pride about their favorite courtesans (be they actresses, or Renaissance poets, e.g., Veronica Franco, Gaspara Stampa, or today’s high-paid and high-class call girls) are imposing on a huge population, most of whom either are right away or become desperate victims (unless they escape very quickly) the luck of a few in just the way we are told to admire unqualified capitalism because a few succeed spectacularly and the rest clearly didn’t “have” their gifts, energies, strength of character, are inferior in some way, when the reality is the difference between the very few and the rest is where you are born, your class (circumstances, connections). The girls in Bosnia and the third world are like the proletariat in the third world, not fringe hangers-on on the tables of the powerful (the edges) but treated with open raw exploitation, and in the case of prostitution the job is to answer with your body whatever the average man wants of you.

So it’s the difference class makes this film teaches us, how terrible is the violence accepted across the world aimed at women, that it is simply felt by many men women are dispensable and to be used where possible (where class and location allows) like animals and then discarded when inconvenient.

And of course like many of Mirren’s films, the politics of the fable shows us those who are pretending to help the vulnerable (of whatever type) are either in collusion with the murderers & rapists & imperalists or themselves actively central.

The DVD includes a feature where we see Kathryn Bolkovac today, we see a woman involved in trying to stop trafficking, the director, screenplay writer, Weisz and Redgrave talking. Trafficking of women continues to be featured and discussed in many womens’ venues: see Women’s enews. This film has helped allegations against the UN to stop, but has it ended trafficking.

See also cross-cultural collaboration.

I cannot recommend seeing this one too highly and telling everyone you know to see it. Like Mirren’s films, it is entertaining because of the melodrama, excitement and the use of a powerful strong female hero or heroine at its center. I never thought I’d begin to love police-procedural type stories, but I have. I did not like many of the older mystery type novels with heroines at the center when they seemed frivolous and shallow and about retreat and upholding establishment values (Agatha Christie). A new breed of women’s film is among us and it is a re-write of male type films which we may hope males go to see, enjoy, and learn from too.


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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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Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) and Dr Patrick Schofield (Stuart Wilson), Scene of Darkness

Dear friends and readers,

A third blog on the unusually good police series, Prime Suspect: I’ve now watched The Lost Child, Scent of Darkness , which I want briefly to compare with Christopher Reid and Niall MacCormack’s Song of Lunch, a more typical heroine’s text (a 2 hour film from PBS Masterpiece theater this year), and the older fine mystery thrillers film adaptations of John LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People. So you see how I’ve been riveting myself into wakefulness in the late nights these weeks. These two new Prime Suspects continue the exploration of sexuality, women’s issues (here motherhood) and male violence against women begun in the previous three stories. They also develop Jane Tennison’s story more centrally.


The last concluding shot of Lost Child

Lost Child

This is the fourth of the Prime Suspect Stories; they have changed format. Story 1 and 2 and 3 were mini-series, each with 4 episodes. Lost Child & Scent of Darkness are both two hours long, the Americanized format of mini-series that winston Graham complained destroyed the attempt to bring back Poldark in 1996. The briefer time frame does not seem to hurt these two Prime Suspect stories as they can do without the leisurely kind of realism the Poldark and other naturalistic books require, but we do get less development of the characters and events are sprung on us where the film-makers rely on the actor’s ability to persuade us this new inner self we didn’t see before was there all along.

Lost Child brings together pederasty and also motherhood — quite a combination. What happened is this: a child, little girl, seems to have been kidnapped from Susan Covington (Beaty Ednie) a mother who has continued to cherish the child just as much as she did before its father John Warwick (played by Adian Lukis wonderfully well – the Wickham archetype fits here) deserted them to have liaisons with more than one woman and moved North. A scene with Tennison shows him at first defiant and nonchalant, not denying he did it even if he lied and was nearby while the murder occurred: he spent the afternoon in bed with a woman who is engaged to marry someone else. Susan, the mother, is hysterical; she goes on TV begging for her child to be returned safely to her.

About half-way through for the first time I had begun to feel that in a way these series could pander to the bigoted paranoia of people, especially surrounding sexual experience vis-a-vis children. The suspect is someone she has also filmed in the park; her film and identification points to Chris Hughes (John Glenister) who served 14 years for molesting minors. I was troubled by the harshness of the response to Chris; I hasten to say I have no agenda for child molesters, only that Hughes was treated so brutally: one of the police officers, Jack Ellis (Tony Muddyman) beats Chris savagely upon trying to arrest him when Chris (understandably) tries to flee the ferocity of this bunch. Jane Tennison is as ferocious and will not listen to any alibis of Chris, especially since she finds he still indulges in saving photos of girls in albums. She is throughout dressed severely; in 3 she was homeliness and clutzyness itself; here she is repeatedly in tight cut black suits, her hair severe, knife-like puritanical elegance:

We are led to suspect Chris just as much by Chris’s relationship to his wife/partner Anne Sutherland (Lesley Sharpe). They seem not be be getting along. Ann seems to be hiding something; she falsified an alibi; Chris over-reacts to situations we see; he is sensitive man who has suffered a long time, was abused in prison because he was a pederast. He insists too strongly he’s fine now. Well, he’s not altogether; they have troubled sex. He saves pornographic magazines in a drawer.

The story seems to culminate in the police trying to wrest Chris/Glenister from his house where he is holed up and taking Anne and their two children, girls both, hostage. The police promise not to have snipers, but they lie and start to shoot; hysterical, he grabs a child and returns to the house.

Now here is where I saw I was wrong and the film was slowly leading us to see that even pederasts should not be pre-judged; they can change, reform; they deserve understanding, sympathy. Suddenly and without preparation to explain why we are led to think that after all Christ didn’t do it beyond that a psychiatrist, Dr Patrick Schofield (played by Stuart Wilson) says adamently in his view Chris/Glenister could not have done it. Somehow when Chris is chased down by the police Susan loses it. She goes hysterical in a new way when she sees Chris and his wife’s children. A long soliloquy brings out slowly how tired she had become of her daughter,, how relentless her life with her (from job to child care, to job again), how the girl irritated her by screaming, screaming, screaming, endless demands, never ceasing, never giving her a moment to herself.

The murderer was Susan. The mother suffocated the daughter. She was (we are to see) given no help and had herself to come up with the baby-sitting money. The roar of anger and distress that comes from her is stunning.

The show is about how insanely we react to child molester (who to be sure, those who are, can do awful things; that they are or can be suffering people too. But it’s also about how motherhood is experienced in our society and its phoninesss and pretenses (which Susan inveighs against in the long closing near soliloquy Tennison and her aide, Sgt [police officers) Chris Cromwell (played by Sophie Stanton) rejoins the show (she was in Episode 1 as Jane’s sidekick) and its hardships. What it asks of a woman.

The frame is important. It’s a “termination” — as it opens Jane has an abortion, a left-over from her love affair with an older lover, now married, was part of Prime Suspect 3. Jane is roaring mad at the death of this child because she has lost her own. The title refers to her abortion as well as the loss of Susan’s child.

I know audience members could be strengthened in their opposition to abortion and say, see how over-reacting made Jane blame Chris, and also liken Jane to Susan as two murderers. But that would be entirely false to the feeling of the series. Jane had a hard time getting time off enough for the “termination” — it’s called, and the child would get badly in the way of her career. This does not mean she does not feel bad too, at some level identify with Susan, not as a murderer but as someone in the grip of unfair choices There is too much sacrifice required of women as mothers.

It did need to be longer. We did not learn enough about Jack Warwick’s and Susan’s relationship nor Chris/Anne Sunderland’s. Susan’s confession was sprung too quickly. Still that Chris/Glenister’s innocence is sprung on us works very well. He is never idealized and on the surface could have been prosecuted, even found guilty. No sentimental ideals are pushed before us and a lot of cruel mindless over-reaction. The ambiguities made me think of James’s Turn of the Screw often read (wrongly) misogynistically.

Another effect of cutting the time for the story in the fourth season was indeed to focus on Mirren. She became a continual presence. The film-makers decided to marginalize the other police officers because they didn’t have time to cover them all. IN the next story she was made the focus deliberately.


Jane (Mirren) and Patrick (Wilson) talking, she intently, he companionably (Scent of Darkness)

The Scent of Darkness

I did have trouble understanding it; that is to say, I couldn’t upon my first watching figure out how the murderer or quite why the murderer did what he did because so much was elliptical and just piled in. It was like watching a story meant to be 3 hours or 4 done in a couple of hours and 20 minutes.

Scent of Darkness had a different script writer, director, and producer: suddenly it all men; Lydna La Plante gone, Sally Head gone. But it was as strongly feminist as ever. By happenstance over on WMST-l the women were talking of how feminists are endlessly accused of being prigs and not have a sense of humor when the case is what’s said to be funny is really not funny to its victims (women in general) and helping to find books which showed this. Scent of Darkness opens with Tennison angry because a woman she wants promoted is not being promoted. The panel in front of her says that’s because this woman is not a team-player, doesn’t get along. Tennison asks for proof? “She has no sense of humor.”


But I also liked it and was eager to re-watch. I especially (I admit) liked the focus on Jane and giving her an on-going private life and relationship with the psychiatrist she had begun to like and trust in Lost Child: Stuart Wilson as Jane’s boyfriend and the relationship that was suggested. It appealed, and he as an older man (he was Ferdinand Lopez in Pallisers, and in Jewel in the Crown, the shit who impregnates Sarah and she knows better than to want to marry so by her mother and aunt is driven to have an abortion) who is amoral/immoral made empathetic by giving him kindness and acceptance and tolerance if not a will to commit.

Well, my second watching made the program not only make sense but showed the implicitly feminist scene that opened the program was the clue or twig developed for the rest. In addition, for the first time Jane Tennison was slightly more central than the murder story; hitherto her story has been parallel, going alongside sometimes, almost equal in the first program but not the center as it was here.

Basically it’s a reprise of Story or Season 1. Instead of Sergeant Otley trying to get rid of Jane, we have the chief detective in charge who makes the comment, “she had no sense of humor” to Tennison: David Thorndike (played by Stephen Boxer): Thorndike is intensely motivated to destroy Tennison’s career and not quite consciously decides that the two new murders of the first mini-series were not done by the man who Jane put in prison.
In other words, she was responsible for a tremendous miscarriage of justice then. He uses a book that has been published by someone whom George Marlowe fools.

So we have to return to the story matter and central theme of malicious brutal violence against women. What emerges is his time the real murderer is the jailor of Marlowe: there is a problem of probability here — perhaps why I didn’t get what was happening. The idea that jailor seems subject to Marlowe and is acting out Marlowe’s violence doesn’t quite wash, but this allows for Jane having to resolve an old case and return to its issues.

A problem this film had too was this time not all the actors returned. Richard Hawley has been in all the series and he was used centrally as someone loyal to her and that helped bind the films.

DI Richard Haskons (Richard Hawley)

Together they break a code, though since the case is hers, she is repeatedly hauled over the coals in public, reprimanded, taken off the case finally (when she insists she was right in the first place) and at last just about fired. So the humiliations of women a member of WWTTA said are so typical of women’s films are here in spades — but with a twist. We see the way she is made to kowtow, plead for herself, admit error are not only unfair, but shown to be wrong and partly the result of the misogynistic Thorndike. She she wins in the end because silently the intelligent and decent people (John Benfield as her superior, DCS Michael Kernan) are on her side. The very top man is just and lucid.

What I loved best was the slow development of her relationship with Stuart Wilson as Patrick Schofield — from missing a movie they neither of them wanted to see, to taking a bath together while they drink and smoke, to watching TV, to sleeping together, getting up in the morning. It really felt real this, though again we had to strain at the improbability that Patrick, a man who seems so ontologically on her side, would allow himself to interview and half countenance the author of the book who wrote the book saying Jane was wrong. This leads to Jane suspecting Patrick is betraying her and gives rise to powerful scenes of conflicting emotions (in this viewer too) as we watch them seem to break apart. They don’t.

This is one of the stories that has a happy-ish ending, not group exultation this time but Jane asking Thorndike to dance and then sneering at him before she returns to Patrick’s table. Very human.

Not that the violence against women is at all marginalized or the way Jane is almost fired and humiliated for good. I can’t say in real life she would have been fired, for in real life none of this would have happened in this way at all. It’s fairy tale this one, more so than the previous.

A kiss

Maybe it’s the men doing it made a love story and powerful or empowered woman (they would believe that) so central. Mirren was here more central than the previous 5 stories, only I do think without Stuart Wilson the depths of feeling at moments would not have been there. This too is part of a woman’s life and in this story Mirren could carry off having happiness in private as well as success in public.


She (Emma Thompson) in Song of Lunch

I want to compare Mirren to Emma Thompson as archetypes. I watched the powerful Song of Lunch two nights ago and it has rightly been given favorable reviews: this one retells the story and slowly developing ironic poetic perspective. The film is an adaptation of a poem by Christopher Reid.

At first I loved it, then by the end I found myself angered by one of the two opposing themes or messages that were conveyed: the one where we are to despise the misery of “he” (Alan Rickman) as brought on by himself.

He (Alan Rickman)

I know you can take it the opposing way, but only by watching a good deal of the movie against the grain. In the movie Thompson plays an archetype she often does — not acknowledged. The headmistress, her teeth a kind of vagina dentata. she was that in spades in An Education. A part of this comes out in her as Elinor Dashwood, dry lone unmarried possible old maid. Here it grated strongly because she was not a victim (as in Wit) and was so sleek and well-adjusted, such a winner with her successful novelist husband, beautiful flat, life, daughters. Maybe Rickman was self-absorbed, narcissistic, felt sorry for himself, spoiled the lunch by his morbid behavior, but he was genuine and his faults preferable to her self-complacency, conventional success, coolness.

I suppose Reid maybe did hate “she” but the film makers made “she” our norm that is good not ambiguous, not cold, not the result of luck. In Mirren’s series we see the common fates of women.

So for me I much prefer the drunken, half-incompetent, often wretched (behind the scenes they fight and spoil things for one another) Wilson-Mirren archetype to this of Thompson, with what she demands of Rickman and he can’t come up to. I’m saying that at heart I find after all I’m preferring Mirren’s archetypal iconography fully than Thompson’s as developed by films with their pro-social, pro-conventional moral turns. Helen Mirren’s films have taught me something that I had not realized was part of Emma Thompson’s.

Lastly: the film adaptation of LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor (1979) and Smiley’s People (1982)

Smiley (Alec Guiness) and Peter Guillam (Michael Jayston)

I have been struck with how LeCarre through Hopcraft (Tinker Tailor) or Hopkins (Smiley’s People) is an inverse presentation of Lynda Plante’s perspective, or perhaps I should say she has reversed LeCarre’s. LeCarre is a rare male writer not to be a misogynist finally or anti-feminist. He is often deeply sympathetic to his heroines, makes them strong, independent, complicated. Not marginalized. Yet not central. As adapted into films, they are victims in the sense of LaPlante: the world stacked against them, men murderous. In Tinker Tailor by episode 3 one young woman who gets involved with the circus (spies) has been abducted, probably raped, tortured, killed. We never see her but the experience Ricki Tarr (Hywell Bennett drop dead beautiful in the Anthony Andrews mould) has galvanizes himself into action to expose the “mole.” We see Smiley (Alec Guiness) visit an old girlfriend, now retired from the circus because she found out too much and her hands are twisted from torture; she is clearly as old as she is utterly available. She is left with an old dog for company, “safe” in Oxford – lovely street off a fine park. The eldely actress reminded me of Dorothy Tutin. In Smiley’s People we have an older woman (Eileen Atkins) who has lived a desolate life separated from her daughter as the underlying motivating story. The same holds true of Meirelles Constant Gardener

Both Smiley and Wilson are presented as protective tender man (reminding me of Robin Ellis as Poldark in some of his behaviors to towards his two beloved women). Plante took their women and made them center repeatedly, made us see the torture, the rape, their desperate lives. The mode, the action, the implications, and the larger political issues are then feminized.


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Jimmy Jackson (David Thewlis), Prime Suspect 3

Dear friends and readers,

This blog may be read as a continuation of my blogs on Lynda LaPlante’s Prime Suspect (1), starring Helen Mirren, and “New hook-up culture another name for “old” casual encounter. In the first I showed the first mini-series was feminist, progressive, advanced ideas of social justice . . . drew insights from the marginalized: the prostitutes, Marlowe’s (John Bowe) common law wife,

but there is a vision of collective hope and empowerment at the end when all do work together.

In the second blog I described our rape-prone culture in the context of its encouragement of exploitative relationships; how young women are driven to be somewhat promiscuous as the price of finding men to go out with. As in the economic public world, so this sexual world allows the worst values to reign.

Now I intend to show that the Prime Suspect series makes this sexual viciousness in our world the terrain of its criminality. It’s beautifully appropriate that a woman comes to the rescue and makes sense that a woman would write the script and another produce the films. Also, in all three Mirren has had a close woman associate helping her. These are indeed 20-21st century versions of heroine’s texts (the phrase is used to characterize the the first series of novels, 18th century with heroine’s at the center, just as often written by men in drag as sensitive brilliant women.

In Prime Suspect 2 the murderer is a pornographer; the people blamed are black.

So the subject is again gender, violence towards women, with a new turn on racism, and desperate poverty among working class whites part of the mixture. The places people live in are part of the text: an old white man suspected of one of the murders in one of these awful tall public tenement buildings. All the re-tellings of Series 2 you come across stress how Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) is having or had an affair with the young black officer assigned to her case: in fact there is one casual encounter, and just as important as race is that she is much older than he.

Sergeant Robert Oswalde (Colin Samuel) and Detective Superintendent Michael Kernan

It’s not overtly feminist, but the difference really is that we are now bringing aboard the full sexual panoply and more marginalized desperate people who are less idealized. The prostitutes of Series 1 were somewhat sentimentalized: the young man who hung himself had in fact participated in the brutal raping, beating and killing of the central victim — along with his sister. The searing moments were watching those black parents made to sit in a waiting room while this son was bullied, harassed, literally driven mad and then put in a cell to die. (This is absolutely the way the modern utterly cruel indifferent system works. If you’re lucky you get on two weeks’ vacation with pay.)

No false uplift at the end. Instead of congratulations — for again it was she who persisted, she who would not believe the old man’s story he did it (to protect his truly lousy son), she who realized the young man who hung himself did it not only because he was driven by another black man ashamed of him but because he had done some of the crime. The belt, finding the photo with that belt. She is overlooked and the super-investigator given the spot.

The murderer was a pornographer and the accent was (Henry Fielding comes to mind this morning) how some people do have bad natures and their surroundings and others only if not deliberately work to make them worse. Every once in a while she is accused slyly of letting her feelings get in the way of her judgment — because she had a casual sort of encounter with the young black subordinate – which could not turn into anything because it’s not permitted.

Prime Suspect 3

I was riveted to the screen. I suggest the third and the first stories are more powerful than the second because the matter at hand is sexual abuse, sexual violence wrecked on the vulnerable, be it a woman or vulnerable gay male or a boy. And in the third season we were watching not only the victims but the people who do the abuse and the people who let it happen and know it’s happening. In the first season the victims were all dead and no one was letting it happen knowingly.

Sergeant Otley (Tom Bell) with abused rent-boys

I’d call PS 3 a kind of Oliver Twist: Lynda LaPlante was showing us what could have been the realities of a band of boys in the Victorian streets. Polanski tried to make a film of OT doing this and earned the vitriolic enmity of Dickens fans. What is exposed here is a pedophilic ring of men with collusive other men and women enabling them to carry on. No pious family in the wings waiting for little Oliver, and little Oliver who wins at the end is turned into a Connie who loses utterly.

To the high spots of Season 3: I really liked the ending. Season 1 had this silly uplift of intense cheers for all; Season 2 ended with the murder solved and all the bad people either dead or punished so the irony was Tennison was not appreciated, did not get a promotion, and was transferring out to a worse job or place, vice squad. What happened in PS 3 is the murderer, Ciarhan Hinds as Edward Parker Jones, a man whose job it is to run “Advice Centers” for runaway boys, orphans, abused young children is precisely the person who is abusing them; this position is perfect for his business of making money off of them with others who exploit and abuse them. Finally we learn that he set fire to the murder victim, Connie (played by Greg Saunders), an adolescent who, unlike Oliver Twist, was not an angel type, but wanting to get money for an transvestite operation was blackmailing Vera Reynolds, Jimmy Jackson and (very dangerous) Edward Parker Jones by selling photographs of them exposing them having sex with the boys or them as youngsters (Vera’s case). Jane Tennison has only circumstantial evidence and she cannot win the case on its merits. But who were they selling the photographs to? A sleazy woman reporter, Jessica Smithy (played also virtuoso-ly by Kelly Hunter). She is a total shit. Tennison has loathed her all along and the final scene has Tennison call in Smithy and deliberately leave on the desk a folder filled with these photos. In case the viewers are a bit dim, Tennison says your newspaper sells a lot of copy with photos like these. So the idea is Smithy will make splash headlines, sell papers and resmirch Parker-Jones so thoroughly that the state may just win its case against Parker-Jones.

The irony is this is sordid and a direct contradiction to the supposed principles of law where a case is to be tried without pre-judging. We all know what can happen to that. This summer a woman was accused of murdering her child; she was grossly treated by the press and TV and Internet and all was done that could be done to make the decision make her guilty. What happened in the courtroom we don’t know because we have to have been there to feel why the jury voted the way it did. Often such newspaper fouling of a suspect does work.

We are to hope it does in Parker-Jones’s case because we have been shown that the police and people high up knew very well what was happening in the Advice Centers and similar places. I noted that there had been a deliberate juxtaposition of the fat cat dinners of males high up in the police, detectives high up in the police department, lawyers, judges in tuxedoes to the vulnerable male losers of society and the boys. It was more than filmic happenstance giving meaning. In fact John Kennington (played by Terence Harvey), a superintendent and police man for decades had been himself a homosexual who was abusing boys. The other officers were afraid of what he was prepared to do to their careers and had been trying to keep Tennison from going deeply into this case; indeed they wanted her to fail. And they only let her go on when she made it plain she would not expose them for collusion and complicity.

From experience and what I’ve been told I know that drug running and other kinds of “sin” crime go on because the police not only collude but are themselves often on the take. Colonial officers from a powerful country often run businesses in the colonies where they make money off goods that are illegal; they pretend to want to arrest the local people involved; rather they control them.

The collusion and complicity as a motive go further. One of the best moments in Season 1 was when Tennison gets Moyra Henson (Zoe Wanamaker), the common law wife of the serial murderer-torturer, George Marlowe (John Bowe deliberately cast against type — he is often the good man) to half admit she knew what was happening all along and lived with it. So too in this film at several turns we are suddenly looking at a woman who is the sex partner of the bad man and she lets Tennison know she has known what was happening all along. John Kennington’s wife (Rowena Cooper) and Parker-Jones patsy girlfriend social worker, Margaret Speel (Alyson Spiro): as with Moyra these two women did not fnid it to their advantage to tell. It was nice being Mrs Kennington, so rich, with money for her sons to go to fancy schools (she lets out she protected her sons at least) and the fatuous believer in liberal ideas as controlling real people, Margaret Speel, who also had a job to protect.

Moyna Henson, George Marlowe’s long-time common law wife (Zoe Wanamaker)

Anyone reading this will laugh when I mentioned Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa where a key collusive figure is Clary’s mother, Charlotte. She lets it happen; she has become craven over the years from the bullying of her tyrant husband it’s anything for a quiet life with her. Whatever hypocrisy necessary she will do to get Clary to marry the horror Solmes. I’ve always felt that intuition of Richardson particularly important.

Tom Watson (David Harvey), the guilty father tries to take the rap for his murderous torturing son

In Season 2 the colluders were the parents of the porn photographer; they were covering up for him. This sentimentality is somewhat undercut because they were presented as half-afraid of this son, but it’s not enough. We do have two policemen who are revealed as decent. A man who leads Tennison to the right transvestite nightclub (I’d have to watch again to get his name) “comes out” and he is treated ugily by the other police officers, with distrust. He is not bullyable we learn and holds his own. A police officer high up assigned to drive Tennison; it doesn’t make sense that he(again I’d have to watch again to get his name) would be given such a job. Gradually she learns and then gets him to admit he is there as Kennington’s personal watch dog over her. He does help her too. So there is sentimentality here. In the case of the gay policeman I think the “good gay policeman with real integrity” a necessary counter to all the evil people we meet. We don’t need that family as counter because viewers will be pro-family members and want to believe good things of such people, such as loyalty to their son.

Mark Strong from Prime Suspect 3 (Mr Knightley in Davies’s 1996 Emma)

Jonny Lee Miller from Prime Suspect 3 (Edmund Bertram in Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park, and Mr Knightey in Sandy Welch’s 2009 Emma)

A sort of side comment which may amuse anyone who has gotten this far and knows I have worked hard on Jane Austen films. I’ve thought that Mark Strong (here in this episode as a firm strong at first anti-feminist policeman) was hired as Knightley precisely because he often plays bad guy strong men, torturers and — it was to give Knightley the “macho” qualities the TV people think the audience will find lacking. Johnny Lee Miller, on the other hand, played both Edmund Bertram and Mr Knightley who on the face of it seem different types (Bertram dim if moral; Mr Knightley all seeing except for his besottedness with Emma and jealousy of Frank Churchill who is still a cad in potential). But they both get the heroine? Why? Like Darcy they have a streak of intense vulnerability, and here Miller was, almost unrecognizable in modern dress, playing a young man who had been badly abused by Parker Jones and others set over him (we hear of nameless policemen either abusing the boys or telling the boys they must say they are lying or will regret it), who breaks down and tells what happened to him, but steely-like will not tell his story in court for at long last he is about to be promoted and wants nothing to get in the way of a decent self-respecting career. He is a colluder in potentia. Years from now he too will be at a dinner in a tux. It’s perfect for the man chosen to play Austen heroes both against and with type, for Austen’s Bertram and Knightley are paragons of virtue.

Mirren herself only breaks down once. There is a sentimental story fused into Season 3: it opens with her having a one or two night fling with an old lover she refused to marry who himself is now married to someone else with 4 children. Her refusal to see him again is treated like a sentimental love story partly. And late in he program we are to believe she’s pregnant. This is an old trope that won’t quite do: women are made to get pregnant after one night or two. It’s not probable though can happen. She gets the news from her doctor that she’s pregnant and makes an appointment for an abortion. We are asked to believe she had an emotional difficulty choosing this route. Maybe but it doesn’t seem probable to me. What does seem probably is the choice for an abortion and her bitter face. She will not bring a child into this world is the idea on Mirren’s face. I liked that.

Vera (Vernon Reynolds)

The third season also had strikingly virtuoso performances beyond Mirren’s, especially John Thewliss as Jimmy Jackson and Peter Capaldi as Vera [Vernon] Reynolds. You could say that this program will open wonderful careers for people who could perform such roles; I am not surprised that it has not. Such roles or character types are rarely wanted, plus there is the intuitive feel borne out by the two biographies that Thewliss and Capaldi are acting partly out of their life’s experience. Strong prejudice then gives people pause, for if Prime Suspect 3 wants to help dispel the prejudice, as in other areas of our society, dispelling prejudice is not readily done. Both have found work basically doing these “types” where they can be found. Thewliss is working class and his first job (before PM) was with Mike Leigh. No surprise there as Leigh does present unusual truths about down-and-out and low status people; he shows love for them and presents stories where we can see them happy even. Thewliss’s next great role was Damage where he plays the son of Jeremy Irons’s father who utterly betrays this son to the point the son kills himself.

So on the whole this third season was superior to the first even and both better than the second.

In Five Full Days the police procedure turned into a TV woman’s novel by Gwyneth Hughes and Anne Pivcevic: it similarly turned on a woman’s point of view of the cruelties of sexual life as experienced by people in our class, money and race ridden bigoted hypocritical societies. They represent a new form of heroine’s text.


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