Prime Suspect

1991 | United Kingdom

Prime Suspect was a hard-hitting British TV crime drama starring Helen Mirren as the determined and strong Jane Tennison. The show focuses on the crimes she solves throughout the seven series, while tackling controversial topics such as racism, prostitution and child abuse. 

However the recurring theme throughout all of the series is one of feminism and sexism and how difficult it is for a woman to break through the glass ceiling in an all-male profession. Although Tennison does eventually get her promotion, we see her struggle to be respected for her hard work. In series one she is only chosen to lead a case when there is no other option available. In series two she is ignored for promotion that she genuinely feels she deserves. Even towards the end of her career, she is pressured to resign by her male colleagues who seem to be waiting for her to fail. None of them want to be shown up by a woman who they consider to be inferior.

Our heroine's work/life balance is another major theme. She is completely obsessed with work. We see that she rarely eats properly, living off ready meals. We see her listening to voicemails from her parents who can never get hold of her to actually talk. We see her have affairs with men she doesn't seem to be interested in having an actual relationship with. Tennison is so determined and obsessed with her career that she does not have time for anything else. In series three, the show tackles another sensitive subject when Tennison decides to have an abortion. This leads her to admit to having a drinking problem which shows itself at testing times in her life.

Despite her desire to be taken seriously by her male colleagues, it is her womanly features that seem to help her solve cases where men fail. Like the men she can be strong, hard and brave. However she is not as easily provoked as her male counterparts, and usually remains calm even when listening to the most shocking and sickening of confessions. Her gentle nature helps her to win the trust of her suspects although she is not easily trusting in return. At the time, there were no crime dramas with a woman in the leading role as it was also extremely unusual in real life. Policing was considered a real man's profession and even in more modern times this still seems to be the case. She became an inspiration for police shows including an American show called The Closer. The comparisons between the two shows were noted by many TV critics. Prime Suspect was so well received that it also paved the way for other crime dramas in the UK including Cracker. The show won lots of awards including BAFTAs, Emmys and Golden Globes.

Prime Suspect was writer Lynda La Plante's long awaited second television series after Widows. Born and raised in Liverpool, La Plante trained for the stage at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. After finishing her studies, using the stage name Lynda Marchal she appeared in a number of popular British television series including Z- Cars, The Sweeney, The Professionals, Bergerac and The Gentle Touch. In the latter series' episode Something Blue (broadcast in 1980), she had a scene with the show's star Jill Gascoine but found the script to be too contrived. She believed she could write more believable dialogue and Gascoine encouraged her to do so. 

Widows was her breakthrough, but it was Prime Suspect that catapulted her into the big league. The last episode was shown in 2006 and saw our well-loved Detective Superintendent solve her final case and try to cope with the death of her father. She realised that after all her years of hard work and living for the job that she would have a lonely retirement. Series 7 was shown in two parts with each episode receiving around 8 million viewers. Jane Tennison will definitely be missed by her fans.








Published on January 21st, 2019. Written by Suzanna Hayes-Goldfinch for Television Heaven.

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