Sacha Howells August 27, 2010
When Prime Suspect debuted in 1991, Helen Mirren already had a long, storied career. Lead roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the ’60s and ’70s led to the big screen, everything from the gangster classic The Long Good Friday to one of the grand bombs of all time, Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione’s art/porn/terrible Caligula. But 15 years and seven series later, her role as television’s Jane Tennison would end up being the defining one of her career. Well, until she won an Oscar for playing the Queen.
Prime Suspect is TV at its best, with sharp writing, intricate stories, and a great actress inhabiting a fantastic character. Mirren’s Tennison is complicated and flawed: ambitious, difficult, career-obsessed, a great detective with a personal life in shambles. (She was nominated for Emmys for six of the seven series and won for two, and in 2007 the show was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 best shows of all time.) The supporting cast is rock solid as well, with guest appearances from actors like Ralph Fiennes, Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes‘s Lord Blackwood), Ciaran Hinds (Rome‘s Caesar), and David Thewlis (Remus Lupin in the Harry Potters and the poisonous antihero of Naked), along with lots of great lesser-knowns.
Each series is made up of two or three 100-minute episodes, usually concerning a single crime, and with every episode as long as a movie, there’s plenty of room for depth. Along with Tennison’s story — sexism and corruption on the force, disastrous relationships, aging, alcoholism — the murders she confronts unearth larger topics, like racial tensions with London’s West Indian immigrants, child prostitution, and Bosnian war crimes.
The show certainly changed over its 15-year run, and improved as it matured. The early series look murky, but by the last and best the cinematography and production values are as good as a feature film, and Tennison’s last stand is as complex and engaging as anything you’ll see in a theater. But from the beginning the show broke ground with its gritty displays of bodies and crime scenes, the blood and brains that made CSI the king of television a decade later.
Collected for the first time, this edition includes all 15 episodes of the show on nine DVDs, 25 hours of classic cop procedural with Mirren at the top of her game. But with a $125 list price, you’d hope to see something more from the package. The print is unremarkable (the first three series look like they were dubbed off an old videotape) and the extras are barely there, just a 50-minute behind-the-scenes special on the show, a 23-minute featurette on Series 6, a photo gallery, and cast filmographies, all from previous releases.
Prime Suspect was a huge hit in the UK, and though it aired on PBS it’s still mostly unknown in the States. But any fan of police procedurals with smart writing, strong characters, and Oscar-worthy acting should have it right at the top of their lists. Like a great movie, these episodes are worth watching again and again. It’s too bad that The Complete Collection doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Fortunately, the show is enough.
Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection is available now from Acorn Media.
Categories: DVDTags: Helen mirren, Prime suspect