DVD Review: Prime Suspect (Series 1 & Series 2)

Helen Mirren had been a movie actress for nearly 25 years, but she really hadn’t made a dent with American audiences. She was a favorite of the cult crowd with her work in Caligula, O Lucky Man, Excalibur and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. But she lacked that break through role until she became a PBS superstar. Prime Suspect wasn’t the usual procedural cop shows. Each series consisted of two episodes that lasted nearly four hours. This allowed the show to unfold like a really long movie and not episodic TV. This allowed Mirren to develop a character on screen rather than fit inside a weekly formula. DCI Jane Tennison is a complicated woman as she proves her worth to the force. Prime Suspect: Series 1 and Prime Suspect: Series 2 have been released as solo discs for fans who missed seeing the series on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater.

Prime Suspect: Series 1 focuses on a woman that’s been raped and murdered. While the male detectives are scouring the scene, Tennison is stuck in her office. Even though she has a Detective Chief Inspector title, nobody in the office wants her to lead a case. She’s there for show. In the early stages of the case, the lead detective drops dead. Tennison sees this as her big break and grabs the position. The male detectives are doing their least to help her. But she refuses to let herself fail. She needs to find out if this is a solo killing or the work of a serial killer. If she doesn’t nail her suspect, this will be the end of her brilliant career. Mirren gets underneath the character to expose the fear she has during the case and her ability to mask it. Tom Wilkinson plays Mirren’s lover.

Prime Suspect: Series 2 switches from issues of gender to race and sex. The remains of a murder victim are found in a neighborhood that caters to Caribbean immigrants. They’re not happy at having white policemen sniffing around looking for suspects. A black detective (Colin Salmon from Keen Eddie) transfers onto the squad to help things out. His arrival brings on interesting troubles since he has a history with Tennison. Will her private life get dragged into this public case? After being accepted by her detective peers, she fears this investigations is their attempt to give her the boot.

Prime Suspect allows Mirren to not merely play a cop, but to give more than procedural tasks. She gets to create a deep character in Tennison so when she has to go in ice-cold cop mode, the rigidness shows. She lets us feel the tension that must be created to maintain a professional face. She knows that anything that makes her human will be used against her by anyone jealous of her position. Prime Suspect isn’t merely about police work, but the people who have to be the police. The first two installments of Prime Suspect are better than any cop movies that Mirren could have made for the cinema. Mirren’s career took an Oscar winning high profile after her work as DCI Tennison.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show appears to have been shot on 16mm with a grainy texture. This works well for the show by not giving it a slick look. The rawness lets us think Mirren is going to lose it at various times. The audio is Dolby Digital Stereo. The rawness of the film comes over to the audio. They keep the mix rather simple so it’s about the investigation and not turning this into Miami Vice.. Each series is subtitled in can’t figure out the various English accents.

No bonus features.

Prime Suspect: Series 1 and Prime Suspect: Series 2 set off Helen Mirren’s landmark police series. She inhabits the role of DCI Jane Tennison instead of merely playing a cop. Prime Suspect is perfect for those who enjoy emotionally complicated police shows instead of merely guessing whodunit before the detective.

Acorn Media presents Prime Suspect: Series 1 and Prime Suspect: Series 2. Starring: Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkerson and Colin Salmon . Running time: Series 1 is 207 minutes. Series 2 is 204 minutes. Released on DVD: August 23, 2011. Prime Suspect: Series 1 and Series 2 are available at Amazon.com..

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