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.
The cast is a talented ensemble, led by Mirren who is brilliant as Tennison. The character has a great range of emotion to deal with and she executes flawlessly. Mirren is captivating to watch because even when Tennison doesn’t speak we understand what she is thinking. Laura Greenwood as Sallie’s friend, Penny Phillips, also delivers a standout performance. She has a number of scenes with Mirren and holds her own. Tennison develops a bond with Penny. At first, it seems to be a tactic to learn more about the case, but their relationship changes as Tennison sees herself in Penny, a young woman with her life ahead of her, full of potential, the opposite of where Tennison finds herself.
Prime Suspect 7 is a great swan song for Tennison, as she comes to terms with her job and herself. It leaves fans, myself included, selfishly wanting more time and adventures with the character, but content with the notion that it is good to go out on top.