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12.05.07

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Prime Suspect 7

The Final Act; two discs; Acorn Media; $29.99

By Michael S. Gant


Helen Mirren won the Oscar for embodying the dowdiness of Elizabeth II in The Queen, but that performance was as much a triumph of makeup as of acting. Mirren's greatest role has unfolded on the small screen in the seven British TV mini-movies that make up Prime Suspect. Starting in 1991 and running intermittently through 2006, the series bored in on the life of a dedicated, maybe too-dedicated, police detective (eventually promoted to detective superintendent) Jane Tennison. Fighting sexism in the mostly male ranks she supervises and navigating bureaucratic treachery among her superiors, while confronting more than a few personal demons, Tennison solves crimes with rigorous detective work, an interrogation style by turns seductive and penetrating and a carefully doled-out sense of empathy for witnesses, victims and even suspects. (Mirren's creation led the way for Kyra Sedgwick's similar detective in The Closer, but there's really no comparison.)

Hardly a supercop, Tennison is deeply flawed, and some of her decisions have had devastating consequences. In the last episode, now available on DVD, the passage of time is written across Mirren's face as the pains of her job weigh down on her psyche. Tennison is looking at her impending retirement through the wrong end of a bottle, and her father must go to an assisted-living facility. In the midst of these traumas, Tennison searches for the murderer of a young teenaged girl. The case brings her close to another girl who serves as a surrogate for the child Tennison chose never to have. A particularly poignant surprise occurs when Tennison goes to an AA meeting and discovers her old nemesis from the first episode, the hatchet-faced detective Bill Otley (Tom Bell). The tension runs at the highest pitch, and the story demands (and rewards) every ounce of your attention. The extras include a documentary about the history of the whole series with interviews with Mirren, the other actors, producers and some of the creative staff.


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