Prime Suspect found an audience on PBS and became so popular that America decided to make its own version. Luckily the lame version on NBC doesn’t taint the original series that starred Helen Mirren over seven seasons appearing periodically between 1991 until 2006. Created by mystery writer Lynda La Plante (who also wrote the first and third series), Prime Suspect focuses on Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison a flawed heroine who faces sexual harassment as she moves into a “man’s world”. Mirren, LaPlante and the other writers/directors of the various installments craft carefully, subtle and nuanced characters that ring true.
In the first series Tennison must not only solve a rape and murder that appears, on the surface, to be fairly routine, but she must also deal with officers working under her command who challenge her every step of the way. Add in a failing relationship with her boyfriend (Tom Wilkinson). The first series also features up and coming actor Ralph Fiennes in a small role.
In the second series, Tennison is brought in to help solve a racially charged murder of a young black woman found in the backyard of a residence formerly occupied by a Caucasian elderly man. Tennison’s investigation is compromised when it is revealed she is having an affair with a younger black officer (Colin Salmon).
The third installment focuses on a child prostitution and pornography ring that Tennison must bring down. The murder of a young “rent boy” and the prominent people involved in the case threatens to derail her case.
In the fourth series Tennison becomes a Detective Superintendent and juggles three different investigations. The first involves a rehabilitated child molester and his potential involvement in the disappearance of a child.
The second focuses on the murder of a country club manager which may have political ramifications.
The third story “The Scent of Darkness” focuses on a series of murders like those committed by a serial killer from the first series. This case calls into question the validity the original case that Tennison solved. Mirren won an Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Miniseries for her performance in this episode.
“Errors of Judgment” from the fifth season finds Tennison investigating the murder of a drug dealer and what conspiracy might be at the heart of his murder.
The sixth season followed after a seven year break. “The Last Witness” finds Tennison being pressured to retire while investigating the murder of a Bosnian refugee. Tennison uncovers possible war crimes at the heart of the murder.
After a break of two years the series returned with the appropriately titled “The Final Act”. We catch up with Tennison as she struggles with alcoholism and facing forced retirement. Tennison is determined to solve her final case focusing on the murder of a teenage girl but personal tragedy strikes as Tennison’s father (Frank Finlay) dies causing additional upheaval in her life.
The Blu-ray transfers vary from so-so to very good depending on the source and age of the source material. Although shot on reportedly shot on 35mm film, was often assembled on videotape and, as a result, the earliest episodes suffer the most with soft looking transfers that don’t feature the amount of detail one would expect with a high def transfer. If you have the DVDs from 2010 or have seen them these are a slight upgrade simply because the original DVDs suffered from too much compression and crushed blacks.
The last season looks much better than the earliest, with a healthy amount of film grain on display, nice detail and increased sharpness. The earlier DVDs were much darker transfers (in fact they were too dark) unfortunately these go to the other extreme losing much of the film noir flavor of the series with brighter looking transfers that lose much of the moody qualities that made the series so memorable looking.
The first five series feature mono soundtracks that are crisp and clear. The last two seasons feature solid stereo soundtracks that are equally crisp and clear. All the episodes come with optional English subtitles which, given some of the accents, may be a blessing for some folks.
The special features for the series are limited but fairly good. The first five series don’t have anything while season six features a solid 23 minute behind-the-scenes featurette. The seventh features a 45 minute documentary about the series which provides considerable insight into the show.
Although the Blu-ray debut of Prime Suspect isn’t a huge upgrade over the DVD release from 2010, the extra space on the Blu-rays and different encoding for the series on Blu improves the release slightly when compared to the original boxed set.