Her name was Jane Tennison, and as Scotland Yard’s first female detective chief inspector, she grimaced through her share of what’s-with-the-slag? wisecracks. But if writer Lynda La Plante’s groundbreaking character merely signified the shattering of glass ceilings, we wouldn’t be talking about this Emmy-winning series 19 years after its debut.
American TV invented the police procedural; with Prime Suspect, the Brits both refined the genre and added a detailed sense of realistic grit. (Programs like CSI owe it a major debt.) Along with the early-’90s U.K. crime drama Cracker, it paved the way for emphasizing a lead character’s messy personal life as much as the cases. And once PBS started reairing episodes in 1992, viewers across the pond got their first look at Tom Wilkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Ciarn Hinds and In the Loop’s Peter Capaldi.
But this box set is, first and foremost, a tribute to the alchemy that happens when a great actor inhabits a great role: The alcoholic, workaholic Tennison wouldn’t be as iconic without Helen Mirren, who turns the DCI (and later, superintendent) into a complex study of what ambition, criminal atrocities and “the job” do to a human psyche. Her comments about the show in the collection’s 50-minute doc almost make up for the lack of additional supplements. Acorn Media’s usual no-frills approach feels like a missed opportunity, but the chance to own Prime Suspect’s complete seven-season run is reason enough to give it prime real estate on your DVD shelf.—David Fear
More DVD reviews