When Prime Suspect first aired in the early nineties it firmly established Helen Mirren as UKTV’s number one female star and Prime Suspect quickly became one of the most looked forward to crime shows on the box. Created by Lynda La Plante the first serial had been a huge hit in 1991, La Plante, though, always keen to move onto pastures new, bowed out of the series after story number 3, only to return to give the series a fitting sense of closure for the seventh and final serial.
The stories themselves pull no punches and right from the beginning Jane had trouble being in a position of power as a woman in what is still very much a mans world. Her cases range from tracking down serial killers, uncovering police corruption. By the time of the third series she had been shifted sideways out of the murder squad and now found herself heading up a major vice investigation whilst Prime Suspect 4 saw her leading the search for a baby that had been abducted.
In the fifth Prime Suspect Detective Inspector Jane Tennison has been shifted sideways once again from London to Manchester after treading on one too many toes, she is soon leading an investigation into Steven Mackintosh’s local bad boy The Street (crazy name,crazy guy) who may just be behind a series of murders. Mackintosh manages to pretty much steal the show from Mirren every time he appears on screen. This is a thoroughly enjoyable entry despite the fact that Detective Rankin (one of Jane’s new team) has one of the most inpenatrable accents this side of Rocky.
It would be some seven years before there was another Prime Suspect and 6 has a very topical storyline with Jane promoted to Detective Superintendent and the production delving into the highly seedy world of Britain’s underclass of East European refugees. Another strong and decidely hard hitting story that pulls no punches.
Bringing the series to a close is The Final Act aka Prime Suspect 7 which sees Jane having to come to terms with her problems with alcohol, her forthcoming retirement and the fact that her father is dying and in her latest murder case makes a major mistake which could have serious implications.
Jane Tennison is one of TV’s great characters and the series has a proper sense of progression as Jane’s personal life basically falls apart as her career rises higher. Jane is a heavy drinker, heavy smoker and sleeps around, in fact she quite often has to be more man like than the male coppers.
Key guest stars across the years have included Zoe Wanamaker, Colin Salmon, Craig Fairbrass, David Ryall, Peter Capaldi, David Thewlis, Mark Strong, Christopher Fairbank, Jonny Lee Miller, Ciaran Hinds, Steven Mackintosh and John McArdle.
In 2011 there was a short run (13 episodes) US version with Mario Bello as Jane Timoney. Unfortunately it fell firmly into story of the week territory and was quickly cancelled.
2017 saw the arrival of an excellent prequel called Prime Suspect 1973 with Stefanie Martini as a young Jane Tennison just starting out in the police force.
UK / ITV – Granada / Variable length / Broadcast 7 April 1991 – 22 October 2006
Creator: Lynda La Plante / Producers: Don Leaver, Paul Marcus, Brian Park
HELEN MIRREN as Jane Tennison
TOM BELL as Det Sgt Bill Otley
JOHN BENFIELD as Det Ch Supt Mike Kernan
JACK ELLIS as Det Insp Muddiman
PRIME SUSPECT (7-8 April 1991)
PRIME SUSPECT 2 (15-16 December 1992)
PRIME SUSPECT 3 (19-20 December 1993)
PRIME SUSPECT 4: THE LOST CHILD (30 April 1995)
PRIME SUSPECT 4: INNER CIRCLES (7 May 1995)
PRIME SUSPECT 4: THE SCENT OF DARKNESS (15 May 1995)
PRIME SUSPECT 5: ERRORS OF JUDGEMENT (20-21 October 1996)
PRIME SUSPECT: THE LAST WITNESS (9-10 November 2003)
PRIME SUSPECT: THE FINAL ACT (15-22 October 2006)