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Prime Suspect (1991-2006)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Prime Suspect (1991-2006)
Granada TV for ITV, 7/4/1991-10/11/2003
12x120/110 mins in six series, colour
Created byLynda La Plante
Directors includeChris Menaul
 John Strickland
Executive ProducerSally Head
 Gub Neal
Writers includeLynda La Plante
 Allan Cubitt

Cast: Helen Mirren (DCI Jane Tennison); John Forgeham (DCI John Shefford); John Benfield (DCS/Supt Michael Kernan); Tom Bell (DS Bill Otley); Ian Fitzgibbon (DC Jones); Craig Fairbrass (DI Frank Burkin)

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Joining a murder investigation after the originally assigned officer falls ill, DCI Jane Tennison must overcome suspicion and resentment as well as cope with a difficult caseload.

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Granada's BAFTA award-winning police drama is justifiably viewed as a benchmark in British television - the original's success paving the way for a string of similarly uncompromising TV crime series including Cracker (ITV, 1993-95), as well as five sequels.

Written by Lynda La Plante, the first Prime Suspect is above all a devastatingly effective suspense thriller which seeks to expose the gritty realities behind the supposedly glamorous world of criminal investigation. Along the way, it overturns several accepted conventions of the British police drama, not least by presenting a woman as the head of a high profile murder investigation.

Brilliant, methodical and resilient, the complex personality of DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) lies at the heart of the series' appeal. Her struggle to overcome institutionalised sexism within the force, reconcile her professional responsibilities with a strained personal life and still ensure the killer is brought to justice win her our sympathy as well as our respect.

Mirren's performance is astonishingly detailed, her every movement executed with a tangible intensity and conviction. Tennison may be a flawed character, frequently aping the arrogance and self-absorption of her male colleagues, but Mirren ensures she is never without humanity.

The investigation rarely runs smoothly, with setbacks, mistakes and red herrings contributing to the sense that Tennison's role is ultimately a thankless one. Crucial to the suspense is the fact that the viewer is never fully convinced of prime suspect George Marlowe's (John Bowe) guilt - it is to the script's credit that this sense of ambiguity is allowed to linger even after the closing credits have run.

The emphasis throughout is on authenticity over sensationalism, and the internal dynamics of the police force are placed under heavy scrutiny. The force is portrayed as an unwieldy, inefficient organisation controlled by an elitist old-boys network.

Tennison's frequent conflicts with the men on the force are chiefly rooted in her 'outsider' status, and the perceived threat she poses to the authority of the male clique: a concern highlighted when her boss DCS Kernan (John Benfield) warns DS Otley (Tom Bell) that "she's wiping the floor with the lot of you."

Tennison's character went on to feature in six subsequent Prime Suspect dramas, each distinguished by outstanding performances from Mirren. The series continued to tackle hard-hitting social issues including racism, child abuse and homophobia, though subsequent scripts lacked the vision and impact of the original.

Darren Lee

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Video Clips
1. Crime scene (4:34)
2. The arrest (3:11)
3. First day (3:05)
Complete first episode: part 1 (28:19)
Complete first episode: part 2 (26:02)
Complete first episode: part 3 (24:44)
Complete first episode: part 4 (24:56)
Cracker (1993-95, 1996, 2006)
Widows (1983-85)
Audley, Maxine (1923-1992)
Bell, Tom (1932-2006)
La Plante, Lynda (1943-)
Mirren, Helen (1945-)
Strong, Mark (1963-)
Wanamaker, Zoƫ (1949-)
Wilkinson, Tom (1948-)
TV Police Drama
TV Sleuths