February 5, 1997
Article taken from Variety.
Helen Mirren’s much-admired, hard-working Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison’s been posted to Manchester, where some of the natives could use subtitles and where Tennison’s challenged to prove herself with the local constabulary. Assigned a drug ring case, Tennison’s crispness, independence and authority give this latest crime venture another thumbs up.
Working for Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Ballinger (John McArdle), Tennison finds that a swaggering punk called The Street (Steven Mackintosh) is her chief opponent from the criminal world. He trains youngsters, mistreats just about everyone, majors in murder and minors in arrogance.
The Street and his disciples use a deserted building with an enormous, empty swimming pool for executions, with the victim either chewed up by revved-up hounds or picked off by gunmen from above.
Tennison befriends one youth, Campbell (Joseph Jones), who’s then snatched when she unwisely sends him home. She tries dealing with his wounded friend Michael (Ray Emmet Brown), and is concerned about Campbell’s attractive older sister Janice (Marsha Thomson).
On the home front, Tennison and Ballinger have a liaison while his wife’s away, and that’s that except for a continuing mutual attraction. Detective Inspectors Jerry Rankin (David O’Hara) and Clare Devanney (Julia Lane) are her chief aides, but something’s wrong: Police tactics are leaking info through to The Street, which means there’s a spy at headquarters. Tennison wonders about Devanney, and acts accordingly by freezing her off the case.
Director Philip Davis keeps the complex, busy Guy Andrews script hopping, and Mirren sustains Tennison’s character as a maturing, intelligent, courageous woman in what’s basically a man’s world. Tennison’s mouthing of crudities more often than her fellow male coppers or the hoodlums (unless they can’t be understood), apparently, is to show she’s one of the boys. It’s a distraction.
But Mirren’s take on Tennison remains an established figure whose vigorous, bright approach to situations gives her the ultimate mastery. Mirren’s Tennison has a curious touch of melancholy amid all the brusqueness. The actress is onscreen nearly all of the time, and not once does Tennison become anything but an eye-catching dynamo who knows about life, disappointments and sour victories.
David O’Hara’s work as her assistant Rankin is credibly limned, Julia Lane’s Devanney is strong, and McArdle’s senior officer is well-acted. Steven Mackintosh’s villainy as The Street is effective.
Lynn Horsford’s production, assisted by the imaginative work of designer Chris Truelove, conjures up the real world. Writer Andrews handed everyone a full, rich plate, and they all skillfully fall to.
Barry McCann’s excellent camerawork, Anthony Ham’s exemplary editing , and Stephen Warbeck’s music all contribute to the latest “Prime Suspect” entry.