Judge Gordon Sullivan keeps this on a shelf above all his Hitchcocks, not just Suspicion.
From Lynda La Plante, the creator of Prime Suspect.
While everyone over here was freaking out about Dennis Franz showing his bottom on NYPD Blue, they were quietly airing a pair of police procedurals across the pond that would rank among the best on telly: Cracker and Prime Suspect. While Cracker was interesting for being an early show dedicated to forensic psychology as a means for solving serial crimes, Prime Suspect was arguably the more radical of the two shows. Starring the wonderful Helen Mirren (before her late-career resurgence in America) as a policewoman in a department riddled with sexism, the show was honest about the difficulties of facing women police officers in a way few had been before or since. So, when a new show proudly states, "From the creator of Prime Suspect," fans of British police procedurals should sit up and take notice. That's exactly the case with Above Suspicion, another police procedural that again follows the exploits of a police woman. Though there is that superficial similarity, this is its own show, featuring solid mysteries and an excellent cast. Above Suspicion: Set 1 collects the first two stories.
Facts of the Case
Detective Constable Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes), who was riding a desk, joins a murder investigation squad headed up by DCI Langton (Ciaran Hinds, The Debt). The team investigates a series of brutal murders that seem to point to a famous actor as the perpetrator. Despite her inexperience, Travis goes undercover to draw the actor out. Then, a woman is found murdered in a manner that seems to be mimicking the infamous Black Dahlia case.
Taken together Prime Suspect and Above Suspicion provide an interesting index of gender and the police force in Great Britain. In the time of Prime Suspect, Helen Mirren's DCI Tennison had to prove that she was as good as any man, tough as nails and a competent detective to boot because women were not wanted on the police force. By the time of Above Suspicion almost two decades later, the sexism is much more subdued, and female police officers are a part of life on the force. What that means is that DC Travis has to prove herself and face sexism, but she doesn't have to prove she's just like a man to do it.
This fact gives Kelly Reilly a lot of room to make Anna Travis an interesting character. Initially, she gets to play the inexperienced card, puking at crime scenes and wearing the wrong shoes. Slowly, however, Reilly gets to show Travis coming out of her shell, demonstrating her competence. It's a plum role for an actress who deserves more exposure than playing Watson's wife in the American film versions of Sherlock Holmes. She's well-matched with Ciaran Hinds, who plays a middle-aged copper who's competent and more than a little interested in Travis. Hinds is a bit inscrutable, pushing Travis but also tender with her. The interactions between these two really ground the show and help it rise about its mystery plots.
The mysteries themselves are fairly compelling. They both take a few twists and turns before the killer is revealed/caught, and like many UK police shows, the interactions between the investigators are as compelling as the mysteries. With that said, having almost two hours per story gives the narrative a little room to meander, generating tension without really resorting to red herrings. The stories also aren't afraid to confront the sexism that Travis faces, like when the first episode has her confront a former dirty cop who dismisses her until she proves herself worthy.
Above Suspicion: Set 1 offers up a decent package. Each story gets its own disc, leaving plenty of room for extras and a solid technical presentation. The show has a slightly washed-out, gritty look to it, and that's well-represented here. The look, especially during night scenes, is especially degraded. It's a perfectly watchable set of standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers, but there's a bit of blocking and noise during some of the darker scenes. I don't get the sense the series has the most lavish budget, so this is probably as good as they're going to look. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio does a fine job balancing clean dialogue and the show's use of music and effects. There are subtitles for those who have difficulty with British accents.
Extras are spread over both discs. Disc One serves up a filmography for the cast, a biography of series writer Lynda La Plante, and a short photo gallery. Next up is a short interview with La Plante, and a two part making-of that combines interview with cast and crew with some production footage. Disc Two starts out with a photo gallery and a pair of featurettes on making the dummy of the Red Dahlia and adapting La Plante's novel for TV. The disc rounds out with five interviews cover the producer, director, creator, cast, and guest artists for the show. Overall there's a good mix of information and fun in these supplements, and they give a strong idea of the show's background.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though the acting is good and the mysteries are solid, Above Suspicion can feel a bit rote at times. There's definite potential (and I haven't seen the other episodes yet), but the show is missing that immediate spark that says, "This one's going to be a hit." I certainly want to see more, but I can see how some viewers might get a "been there, done that" vibe from the show.
It's also made for British TV, which has different standards from America. If these episodes were released theatrically, they'd be R-rated. There's cursing, nudity, and a decent amount of gore and violence. It's not crazy or excessive, but those looking for a standard American police show will be surprised.
Above Suspicion is a solid UK police thriller; a decent premise, fine mysteries, and an excellent cast. These two first episodes are compelling, and technical presentation strong enough to merit a recommendation. The decent collection of extras is icing on the cake.
Since it's Above Suspicion, it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
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