The Bletchley Circle 2.01: “Blood on Their Hands” Part 1

Bletchley Circle Cast: (l to r) Julie Graham as Jean, Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan, Sophie Rundle as Lucy, Rachael Stirling as Millie
(l to r) Julie Graham as Jean, Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan, Sophie Rundle as Lucy, Rachael Stirling as Millie

The first series of The Bletchley Circle reminded us that sisterhood is powerful. So it’s no surprise when Jean (Julie Graham) feels compelled to defend the innocence of a former Bletchley Park codebreaker, even when the woman refuses to defend herself.

It’s 1953, ten years after Jean crossed paths with Alice Merren (Hattie Morahan) at Bletchley. Now Alice is facing trial for the murder of John Richards, a fellow scientist with whom she’d had an affair all those years ago. Alice hasn’t denied involvement in his murder, but she hasn’t confessed to it either. That’s enough proof of doubt for Jean, who resolves to demonstrate Alice’s innocence. But Jean can’t do it alone; she needs the other members of the “Bletchley Circle” to help her.

(This trailer's from ITV's UK run of the series in January.)

“Blood on Their Hands” (a two-part episode that concludes next week) packs a lot of plot into a scant 45 minutes, and the show’s creators don’t waste any time reviewing the material from Series 1. So, first, a recommendation: If you don’t have total recall of previous episodes, you’ll want to revisit them; it will help put this story in context.

As Series 2 begins:

Lucy (Sophie Rundle), the one with the photographic memory, is now working at Scotland Yard as a “clerical support officer.”

Millie (Rachael Stirling), the one with the languages, is working as a German translator in a capacity for which she needs government clearance. (I’m not sure what the job is.)

Jean, the den mother, seems to be a research librarian. She’s been following the newspaper reports of Alice’s case and has tried to contact her more than once—all letters have been returned unopened.

And Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), the one with the knack for piecing clues together, is scoping out boarding schools for her kids and pretending she’s content as a housewife and mom.  She’s resistant to involving herself in another “project” with this group after what happened in Series 1. (They pursued a serial killer; harrowing occurred.)

Nevertheless, Jean manages to rally the women in support of Alice—even the reluctant Susan. Together they begin peeling back the layers of intrigue that led to John Richards’s murder and Alice’s incarceration.

It’s complicated. Episode 1 will either draw you in and hold you fast, or it will make your head spin. You have to be quick. You have to process information, draw conclusions, discern patterns, remember absolutely everything… In short, you have to be as adept as the women of Bletchley Park to keep up.

I enjoy this series even as I watch it with my finger poised over the Rewind button so I won’t be left behind. Great leaps are made based on wisps of evidence. In one instance, Susan makes an inference based on I don’t know what—a Bible verse that pops into her mind? Her hypothesis is right, of course, but when so much is based on the inner workings of a character’s mind, the audience needs some help to make those mental leaps with her. (Even Sherlock understands that every once in a while he has to give the mortals a sec to catch up with him.)

At times, the main characters seem to be mere superheroes: You know what they do, now watch them do it. Slam! Socko! Kerpow! That seems a bit of a waste when the series has such a talented cast of actresses.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan
Susan double-checks the teacher’s work. She is not impressed.

Anna Maxwell Martin captures both Susan’s internal conflict and her external coolness. Susan’s past experience with the “Circle” left her rattled. She really, really doesn’t want to be drawn in again. yet she can’t resist a puzzle. Her mind is simply too active; it demands intellectual fuel. She’s an expert at dismantling and reconstructing scenarios, pointing out the pieces that don’t quite fit. Maybe that’s because she doesn’t quite fit into the ordinary civilian scenario she’s trying to construct for herself—as her meeting at the boarding school demonstrates.

In fact, none of the women have been especially successful at blending back into the day-to-day. Their skills and gifts have placed them outside the norm. Alice is an even greater enigma. Her motivation for accepting the blame for a crime she didn’t commit—a crime for which she could be executed—is the biggest puzzle of all.

Episode 1 loads us up with clues: a desperate young woman; a truck crash with significance we don’t yet understand; shadowy men taking surveillance photos; and a possible military conspiracy. We end with the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle scattered all over the table. They won’t come together until Episode 2.

Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Susan Stokes

    PBS Sundays Keep us Busy..The Bletchley Circle was wonderful…The Background Segment, the Writers and the whole team Definately loved that… Thanks Leslie…

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