Prime Suspect 1973

Prime Suspect without Helen Mirren? Well they got away with doing Morse without John Thaw, so why not?

It’s no secret Stefanie Martini wasn’t creator Lynda La Plante’s first choice for the young Jane Tennison, which may or may not have contributed to her departure from the production.

In fact, Martini acquits herself well as the probationary WPC battling lowlife crims and institutional sexism in 1970s Hackney. Asked by her DI what a nice Maida Vale girl like her is doing in an East End cop shop like this, she replies, a touch saucily: ‘I thought the force could do with more posh sorts, Sir.’

You go, girl! Except, by episode two, she was drunkenly snogging Sir outside a pub. Oh Jane. Really?

When I interviewed La Plante for this publication last year, she railed against the trend for gratuitous violence in TV crime dramas, stating: ‘I think what we’re subjecting young actors to at the moment is verging on pornography.’

And yet this, based on her own novel, opened with the body of a young, pregnant prostitute lying in the rain – having been strangled with her own bra – and later featured the most queasily explicit mortuary scene this side of a video nasty.

There are no punches pulled with the period trappings, either: as well as the dodgy Life on Mars wigs and ’taches, the soundtrack is a veritable jukebox musical of 70s soft rock by the likes of Blind Faith and Argent. There are also clanging references to Watergate, and the desk sergeant greeted one junkie with: ‘Oi, Thin Lizzy – looks like you’ve ’ad a bit more than whisky in your jar!’

The plot, meanwhile, could have come straight from The Sweeney – especially the scenes in which Alun Armstrong and some fellow old lags plan one last bank job from inside the clink.

And that’s the real problem here: the original Prime Suspect was one of the shows that helped turn the police drama on its head and shake out its pockets; this, by contrast, feels like a hangover from another age. An idea past its prime.

TV extra:


Big Little Lies

HBO’s dark new comedy thriller, set among the alpha-moms of Monterey, CA, boasts the starriest of all-star casts, including Reese Witherspoon as the town busybody (think Clueless’s Cher having a midlife crisis) and Nicole Kidman as a wife and mother whose life isn’t quite as perfect as her Instagram account suggests. Throw in a murder, and some fabulously gossipy police interviews, and the town’s respectable veneer soon begins to crack, revealing a murk of secrets and lies beneath. Consider me hooked.


Call the Midwife

Another series down, and I’m more convinced than ever that Call the Midwife is assembled from unused Acorn Antiques scripts. (This week, shopkeeper Mrs Buckle dismissed talk of the menopause with the immortal line ‘I just got a bit hot and bothered sorting out my mohair two-ply’). And yet, for all its sentimental tweeness, the show tackles women’s issues – both emotional and physical – with a straight-talking frankness that other, so-called grittier shows would run a mile from. See you next year.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 16, 2017

(c) Waitrose Weekend