On September 22, NBC will show the first episode in director Peter Berg’s “reimagined” version of the acclaimed British police procedural drama, Prime Suspect.
Nothing against Peter Berg, whose directorial work I’ve enjoyed in the past. And nothing against Maria Bello, who will be playing the role of Detective Jane Timoney (formerly known as Jane Tennison and played with aplomb by Helen Mirren). But, I will be televisionally elsewhere at that time.
As a pre-teen anglophile, I was under a sworn obligation to immerse myself in all things English. And the main source of British television for me in those days (BBC America not having been invented yet) was PBS. I can still remember that first episode of Prime Suspect, and it’s been…well, a lot of years. For this Jane Austen lover, and tea and crumpets aficionado, the grit and gloom and sheer realism of Prime Suspect was a revelation. Gone was the pretty, pastoral, twee England that I had envisioned from my reading of Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and in its place there rested a place where child molesters lurked in Advice Centers (something akin to the Boys & Girls Club here in the states), and the bones of murdered runaways were found beneath garden paving stones. And there, in the middle of it all, was Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennison, pressing up against the glass ceiling one cigarette burn at a time.
Along with her team of crack detectives—many of whom were so not cool with being led and outranked by a woman—Jane didn’t always play by the rules. She had to remind her guys again and again to refer to her as “guv” instead of the loathed “ma’am.” She was at times crude, often insubordinate, and she had a bit of a drinking problem. And let’s not mention her affairs. So many affairs. But she got the job done. And she cared. (Which is why she drank.)
Over the seasons, Prime Suspect featured a veritable revolving door of classically trained British actors. Who can forget Ciaran Hinds, at his creepy best (or worst if you love him as Captain Wentworth in the 1995 version of Persuasion), as Edward Parker-Jones. Or Stephen Macintosh as The Street? Tom Wilkinson, Zoe Wanamaker, Colin Salmon, David Thewlis, Mark Strong…the list is endless. And always, always, Helen Mirren’s Tennison, at the heart of the drama.
Through the years, I’ve watched some of my favorite British shows get the Americanization treatment. Cracker, which was unrecognizable without Robby Coltrane. Coupling, which seemed crass and overproduced, and somehow mercenary, in its American iteration. And of course, The Office, which I cannot watch. Will this new version of one of my favorite mystery shows of all time work? I don’t know.
If I do end up watching, I’ll do so with an effort to completely divorce this new version from the classic one. It’s the only way those of us past a certain age can survive with our sensibilities (or our hearts) intact.
Manda Collins has been reading mysteries since her first Nancy Drew at the age of six. An academic librarian by day, by night she writes historical romance blended with mystery for St. Martin’s Press. Her first book, How to Dance with a Duke, is scheduled for release in February, 2012. To learn more, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter @MandaCollins.