Prime Suspect: Series One & Series Two DVD review - classic British detection

Dame Helen Mirren (The Queen) shines as Detective Jane Tennison in the classic British TV series Prime Suspect. The first series ran in 1991, and featured a number of future starts in addition to Mirren. These include Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient), Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton), and Zoe Wanamaker (Poirot).

prime suspect

Detective Chief Inspector Tennison is battling two fronts in the first series. The first concerns the rampant bureaucratic sexism in the Metropolitan Police. Over the years, she has risen through the ranks, and has finally seized the opportunity to lead the investigation of a high-profile murder case. It is handed to her as something of a slam-dunk, with the prime suspect already behind bars.

Rather than go along with the program though, DCI Tennison uncovers a series of errors, and evidence of a cover-up that many in the force would just as soon sweep under the rug.

The second battle the detective faces is personal. Despite her “can do” attitude, she is a deeply insecure woman. Her personal life is a shambles, and she seems nearly powerless to control it.

It is hard to imagine anyone better suited to this role than Helen Mirren. She can say more with a single look than with a thousand pages of script.

The first series was so successful that Prime Suspect was brought back for the 1992 season. In fact, the ITV program would run for seven series altogether, (1991-93, 1995-96, 2003, 2006).

Having proven herself quite convincingly in Series One, DCI Tennison is faced with new challenges in Series Two. Her colleagues now off her a reluctant respect, but there are still a number of political mines to navigate.

In Series Two, she is assigned to lead a murder investigation in the African Caribbean community. Initially this seems like a major opportunity for her, but soon other elements will emerge to complicate matters. The racial components of the case become even more pronounced when she is paired with a black detective who also happens to be her former lover.

The barely controlled racism of many in the force is a constant source of strife, and Jane Tennison still carries the doubts about herself that she always has.

20 years have passed since the first series of Prime Suspect, but it still plays as sharply as ever. No wonder the series earned so many awards over the years, it is British drama at its best.

Last year, Acorn Media released Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection, a 9-DVD set containing all seven series. They are now issuing each series individually, and Series One and Two are the first out of the box. This will allow the viewer to get to know the originals before the highly anticipated new American version of Prime Suspect debuts on September 22, 2011 on NBC. 

By Greg Barbrick

About the author

Greg Barbrick has been watching TV so long he remembers watching first run episodes of Star Trek.

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