A new boxed sets for an acclaimed British police drama is on the DVD radar screen.
"Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection" brings together, for the first time, all nine British police mysteries starring the remarkable Helen Mirren as Deputy Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. Created by Lynda La Plante, "Prime Suspect" was produced by Britain's Granada Television for the ITV network, and broadcast in the United States on PBS's "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Mystery." Each series is about 3 1/2 hours long, with the exception of "Prime Suspect 4," which included three shorter cases at a total length of about five hours.
"Prime Suspect" began in 1991, and the first five series were made roughly 18 months apart through 1996, when Mirren decided to take a break from playing Tennison. She didn't resume her role for seven years, returning in 2003 to make "Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness" and, in 2006, "Prime Suspect: The Final Act." All together, Mirren received six Emmy nominations for her performances in "Prime Suspect," winning twice.
Watching these miniseries again reminds us what a breakthrough "Prime Suspect" was when it first appeared on television. No TV police series - especially not "Cagney & Lacey," the first American TV show to seriously focus on female police detectives - had ever made the issue of sexism in the police ranks an essential part of its theme and stories. At the center of just about every case is how Tennison, despite her obvious intelligence and ability, has to continually assert herself in order to be successful in the male-dominated London police department. Even after she's promoted to the rank of Detective Superintendent (in "Prime Suspect 4"), she never escapes condescension and subversion on the part of some male police officials.
"Prime Suspect" was also concerned with the impact of Tennison's striving for a successful career on her private life. From her inability to be a good partner to a good man (Tom Wilkinson in the first "Prime Suspect") to her battles with alcoholism (in "Prime Suspect: The Final Act"), Mirren portrays Tennison as a flawed heroine whose professional accomplishments have come at a serious price.
It's a tribute to the freshness of the writing and the ability of the ensemble cast, led by Mirren, that a series that began nearly 20 years ago still seems as urgent and modern as when it first aired. Although one wishes Acorn Media had included in the new boxed set more bonus features than two previously seen behind-the-scenes documentaries, most viewers will be perfectly happy just watching DCI Tennison on the case again.
Suspect: The Complete Collection'
DVD, nine discs, $124.99