The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco

The Bletchley Circle – ITV’s likeable but lightweight drama about a group of former WW2 codebreakers teaming up to solve murder mysteries in the 1950s – was dropped in 2014 after two miniseries. Since then, Hollywood hit Hidden Figures has proved that women + maths = box office gold, and now the Bletchley gels are back to crack another case, armed with nothing more than a sharp pencil and an inquiring mind.

Or at least, two of them are: Anna Maxwell Martin and Sophie Rundle are sadly absent from this transatlantic reboot, which sees free spirit Millie (Rachael Stirling) and no-nonsense Scottish librarian Jean (Julie Graham, playing against her usual saucepot roles in a sensible cardie) heading to San Francisco on the trail of a serial killer they suspect of murdering one of their Bletchley colleagues during the war.

The change of location has given the show a groovier vibe, one that places our tweedy British heroines in a world of fly Fillmore jazz clubs full of hepcats with names like Bunk Murphy. They also recruit two new American members to their gang: Iris (Crystal Balint) is a former Presidio cryptologist who moonlights as a smokin’ bebop pianist while Hailey (Chanelle Peloso) is a farm girl-turned-ace mechanic (motto: ‘You need riggin’? I can rig it!’)

Writer Daegan Fryklind (surely she should be in Game of Thrones?) has also woven in the civil rights struggle and a subplot about a wicked mayoral candidate who wants to demolish the city’s poor, mainly black neighbourhoods for redevelopment, so it’s an altogether more woke proposition than the original series.

A British-Canadian co-production that’s clearly been made with an eye on the international market, you don’t exactly need to be Alan Turing to follow the undemanding plot which, in crossword terms, is definitely more quick than cryptic. Also, for a show that revolves around a vicious murderer who strangles women and cuts out their tongues, it’s possessed of a curiously brisk and breezy vibe, best summed up by Hailey’s Pollyanna-ish cry of ‘We stopped the war, we can stop a killer!’ Something tells me she’s probably right.

TV extra:


Before They Were Stars

A faintly embarrassed-looking Susan Calman introduced this collection of celebrity ‘career skeletons’ as the show ‘they’ don’t want you to see. But is it really? At worst, clips like a young Michael Gove rummaging through Sting’s rubbish bin (don’t ask) or a surprisingly swoonsome Gordon Brown raised an amused eyebrow. But Diana Rigg in The Avengers? She was an international superstar, for goodness’ sake! What next – Sir Paul McCartney’s secret past as a Beatle?


Forbidden History

Question of the week: Could Jamie Theakston – who started his career interviewing the likes of Let Loose and Eternal – succeed where centuries of scholars and theologians have failed, and categorically prove the existence of Jesus? No, was the largely unsurprising answer. In fact, he broadly concluded that Christ probably didn’t exist, before asking: ‘But does it really matter?’ We don’t know, Jamie – we’re not the ones who made a film about it.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 26 2018

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