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Category:    Home > Reviews > Detective > MysteryMurder > Police Procedural > Drama > British TV > Prime Suspect – The Complete Collection (1991 – 2006/Acorn DVD)

Prime Suspect – The Complete Collection (1991 – 2006/Acorn DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+     Episodes: B+



There are so many problems with the police procedural, including false assumptions that started in TV in the 1980s (sudden equality in the workplace if you solve crime, the establishment is always right, science always works, etc.) and whenever the cycle finally tires on both sides of the Atlantic, they will look like relics of the era.  One of the few exceptions of any merit is the series Prime Suspect, with Helen Mirren as a detective who finally gets promoted to head up an investigation in the first of seven installments, all collected on Acorn Media’s Complete Collection DVD set.


The original 1991 two-part pilot is an all-time TV classic (rate it an A- on our scale) as Jane Tennison (Mirren) takes on that first big case after being passed over for far too long and still faces sexism, being underestimated and finds arrogance that society has become long and comfortably in denial of for a few decades.  With the support of the man who loves her (Tom Wilkinson), she takes on a sad case of young women disappearing and some of them turning up dead after being tortured, mutilated and worse.  Having to take on her whole men’s club at work only makes things more obnoxious, but once she starts to focus, nothing is going to stop her though even she has doubts about what is going on.  An inside cover-up on some of the facts is not helping.


From this success, five more sets of cases were produced including a second in 1992, a third in 1993, stunning fourth (with three strong cases) in 1995, fifth in 1996, seventh years later in 2003 and Final Act in 2006 (the latter of which we reviewed elsewhere on this site).  The writing is top rate and Mirren, one of the greatest actors of her or any generation, is more than up to the task.  This is the first collection of all the shows in one place (HBO Video never had this complete a set), this is up there with Columbo and the best detective show in TV history, thanks in part to creator Lynda La Plante (Trial & Retribution, Above Suspicion).


As far as a female discourse in the genre, female detectives are still rare.  Besides the odd anomaly of Mrs. Columbo, there have been fewer shows where the female detective has police powers (Angie Dickinson in Police Woman, for example or Gillian Anderson on The X-Files, which is a supernatural genre work) versus the majority who do it as a hobby (Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple, Stephanie Powers’ Jennifer Hart, etc.), but Prime Suspect, finishes what an earlier British TV show called The Gentle Touch (reviewed elsewhere on this site) started by showing a female police detective taking on all the same troubles on the case and in the squad room.  Even the earlier U.S. TV sitcom classic Barney Miller (also reviewed on this site) did so when the great Linda Lavin (before her hit TV comedy Alice) played the only female detective at the 23rd Precinct, a tenure that did not last or cause a spin-off as Police Story spawned Police Woman.


Prime Suspect is therefore a groundbreaker and key part of that legacy and the show sported great guest stars (some of whom had not become popular yet) like Ralph Fiennes, Zoë Wanamaker, Tom Bell, Colin Salmon, Stephen Boyer, David Thewlis, Mark Strong, Johnny Lee Miller, Peter Capaldi, Stuart Wilson, Kathy Riley, Robert Gienster, John McArdie, Steven Mackintosh, Ben Milers, Robert Pugh, Oleg Menshikov, Frank Finlay and Stephen Tomkinson, plus other potential breakout actors.  If you have not seen this great show, now is the time to catch up to it.



The 1.33 X 1 image on the first five series and anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the last two are about even, with the earlier shows shot on film and latter apparently shot in HD.  Softness, aliasing and other errors on the older filmed shows come from older film-to-tape transfers, while the later HD productions have their own built-in softness and other definition limits from what are likely 1080i shoots.  You still get a consistent enough look, but the inevitable Blu-ray treatment the shows should get will deliver more.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo has Pro Logic surrounds on the latter episodes, but sound is basically consistent, well recorded and dialogue-based throughout the show’s production.


Extras include still and cast filmographies throughout the set, a Series 6 featurette (23 minutes) and outright behind the scenes special (50 minutes) on the Series 7 DVD.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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