Case Number 19514: Small Claims Court

PRIME SUSPECT: COMPLETE COLLECTION

Prime Suspect
Acorn Media // 1991 // 207 Minutes // Not Rated
Prime Suspect 2
Acorn Media // 1992 // 204 Minutes // Not Rated
Prime Suspect 3
Acorn Media // 1993 // 206 Minutes // Not Rated
Prime Suspect 4
Acorn Media // 1995 // 305 Minutes // Not Rated
Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement
Acorn Media // 1996 // 201 Minutes // Not Rated
Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness
Acorn Media // 2003 // 195 Minutes // Not Rated
Prime Suspect: The Final Act
Acorn Media // 2006 // 184 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // August 19th, 2010

The Charge

"Listen, I like to be called Governor or The Boss. I don't like Ma'am -- I'm not the bloody Queen. So take your pick."

The Case

To paraphrase a movie about another troubled crimefighter, Scotland Yard's Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison is the hero England deserves, but not the one it's ready for. An ambitious and brilliant police detective, Tennison is a copper from the old school -- tough, driven, and willing to sacrifice everything for her job. The only problem is, she's a woman in an old boy's club of a police department that views females as fit for paperwork and menial support duty rather than nicking murderers.

That's exactly where we first meet DCI Tennison -- filing legal papers while the boy detectives run off to investigate a murder -- at the start of Prime Suspect. Despite having risen through the ranks to become an investigator, she's stuck in a career dead end, having hit the glass ceiling. It's only the sudden death of her immediate superior that provides a fortuitous opening that Tennison grabs, desperately, knowing it's likely her one chance to climb out of her situation.

Jane Tennison doesn't quite match up with the feminist-heroine role models we're accustomed to. She's not a sassy bimbo-with-a-brain-of-gold dazzling the guys with her looks before winning their grudging respect with her intellect. She's not a tough-yet-feminine working mama balancing her career with her home life. Forget all those clichés about women cops bringing their warm, fuzzy female gentleness to their jobs.

Tennison isn't even all that likable, actually. She drinks too much, smokes too much, has no identifiable friendships other than the occasional bed companion, and doesn't appear to have any interests outside of her job. Tennison's a cop, first and foremost, then a woman, and lastly, a human being. While this may not be the most captivating description of the protagonist of a television drama, Tennison, played with stoic intensity by Helen Mirren, is a fascinating, often maddeningly opaque character, never less than watchable over the (25 hour) course of this legendary series.

The first Prime Suspect, which aired in 1991, deals directly with the issue of sexism in a male-dominated profession. At the time it was written, there were only four female DCIs in Great Britain. As the replacement for her deceased (male) predecessor leading an investigation into a string of murders, Tennison is faced with tracking down a sadistic serial killer and preventing the death of his latest victim, while at the same time waging a battle for respect against her irritated superiors -- ready to sack her the moment she trips up -- and dubious colleagues.

The entries that follow tend to keep to a similar structure: Jane deals with her personal demons and interpersonal work conflicts while investigating crimes with larger societal implications (race and class in Prime Suspect 2, homosexuality in Prime Suspect 3, pedophilia and class conflict in Prime Suspect 4, and so on). While there are leaps in Jane's timeline (4 picks up almost immediately after 3, but there's a lengthy gap between 5 and 6), and each entry doesn't spend much time catching the viewer up on what Tennison's been doing, the show is consistent in developing Tennison's personal and professional course. Jane's decision to have an abortion in one installment has repercussions throughout the rest of her story, and her open antagonism towards her superiors has definite consequences from one series to the next.

By the time we get to the final, and possibly the finest, chapter of Prime Suspect, Jane is nearing 60 and ready to retire. Many of the story threads introduced earlier in the series -- her struggles against her sexist colleagues, the price she's paid for sacrificing family for her job -- come full circle. Without resorting to melodrama or sentimentality, which Prime Suspect, admirably, almost never does throughout its run, everything we've seen happening to Jane Tennison over the years -- her alienation from her family, her sadness over her termination of her pregnancy, her dependence on alcohol -- finally culminates in a heart-wrenching, bittersweet conclusion. Mirren delivers a stunning performance (which absolutely merited her Emmy award) that carries the accumulated weight of all the years she's invested in this role. It's one of the most artfully crafted series finales I've ever seen.

Prime Suspect has already seen DVD releases as individual series sets, but Prime Suspect Complete Collection finally collects the entire run of the show in a single package. If you already own the previous releases, there's little reason to buy this one, since there are no additional special features or enhancements aside from the repackaging. I haven't seen the earlier HBO Video sets so I can't compare the video or audio quality between them, but Acorn Media doesn't indicate any remastering in its product information or packaging, so I'm assuming the transfers are identical.

Video quality, as you might expect, improves throughout the course of the seven volumes, starting out watchable but a trifle grainy -- par for the course for a British TV production from that era -- with faded, dull colors, but with a considerable jump in quality starting with Prime Suspect 6. The picture is full-frame, except for 6 and 7, which are in widescreen. All of the volumes are presented in Dolby Digital stereo, English-only, with optional English subtitles.

While I would have liked a fuller set of special features for a series of this quality and cultural significance, the features offered are adequate, if not especially thrilling. Volume six offers a twenty minute featurette on Prime Suspect 6, and on the final volume we get a longer, nearly hour-long retrospective that does a decent job of quickly summing up the history and significance of the show. Everyone involved with the production is clearly proud of their achievements, as they should be.

People often refer to The Wire as a "novel for television." Prime Suspect falls into the same category. More than just an episodic police procedural, it's a complex, cohesive character study about a woman cop traveling a long, lonely road between the old school and the 21st century.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Bryan Byun; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Prime Suspect
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile, Prime Suspect
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 207 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Prime Suspect
* None

Scales of Justice, Prime Suspect 2
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Prime Suspect 2
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 204 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Prime Suspect 2
* None

Scales of Justice, Prime Suspect 3
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Prime Suspect 3
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 206 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Prime Suspect 3
* None

Scales of Justice, Prime Suspect 4
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Prime Suspect 4
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 305 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Prime Suspect 4
* None

Scales of Justice, Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 201 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement
* None

Scales of Justice, Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 195 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness
* Featurette

Scales of Justice, Prime Suspect: The Final Act
Judgment: 100

Perp Profile, Prime Suspect: The Final Act
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 184 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Prime Suspect: The Final Act
* Featurette
* Photo Gallery
* Filmographies

Accomplices
* IMDb: Prime Suspect 1
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0098898/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect 2
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0103516/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect 3
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0106104/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect 4: The Lost Child
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0114182/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect 4: Inner Circles
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0114180/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect 4: Scent of Darkness
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0114181/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0115321/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0365651/combined

* IMDb: Prime Suspect: The Final Act
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0811026/combined

* Wikipedia: Prime Suspect
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_Suspect