Prime Suspect is the award-winning British police drama starring Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. It first aired in 1991 in the UK on ITV and was then brought to the United States, initially airing on PBS’ Mystery and then Masterpiece Theatre. Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act, the latest, and purportedly last, series continued that trend, as it was awarded the 2007 Emmy for Best Actress, Writing and Directing in a Miniseries or Movie.
Tennison is a very intriguing character. She is an alcoholic, and we find her waking from a blackout, unaware that she’s already involved in an investigation for a lost girl, 14-year-old Sallie Sturdy. After the girl’s body turns up, the case gets more complicated when it is discovered that she was pregnant at the time of her death. As if Tennison didn’t have enough stress dealing with such a difficult, high profile case before her retirement, her father is gravely ill.
The events of her personal and professional life bring to the forefront the heavy toll Tennison has paid for the choices and sacrifices she has made for her career. Family, her own and the notion of starting one, was cast aside. She found support through alcohol. However, her solace was illusionary. More than once, her drinking almost derails the Sturdy case. During a suspect’s interview, Tennison’s commander comes close to removing her as the lead after she is accused of being drunk. So close to bottom she can nearly touch it, she tries Alcoholic Anonymous to see if they have the answer she has been unable to find in a bottle.
The script combines a great character study within a well-plotted mystery. The genre’s expected misdirection doesn’t feel forced as legitimate suspects are investigated. The minor characters are believable people rather than merely being revealers of exposition. Best of all, screenwriter Frank Deasy makes the series accessible to first-time Prime Suspect watchers. Fans will see a return of an old friend.