Vera Season 11: Episode 1 Review
By Martin QuinnSeptember 9, 2021
In an unpredictable world, procedurals can be comforting. A cast of characters you know and love. the suspects’ photos on the bulletin board, all the “Where were you on the night of the murder?” inquiries, and the knowledge that caring, capable sleuths will solve the case before long helps us to sleep a little better at night. Vera, the TV series based on the series of books by Ann Cleeves, continues to gain new fans in the US, executing that procedural blueprint we know and love with confidence and a little flair.
The first episode of the 11th season just began airing on BritBox in the US. The accomplished, long-running series success is in no small way indebted to the work of twice Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn. Within three minutes of the episode, one of Northumberland’s residents, Jim Turnbull, is murdered on the steps of the majestic Collingwood Monument, and Blethyn’s Vera is hastily tossing half-eaten toast and coffee into the long grass as she climbs into her beat-up Land Rover. We’re eagerly right behind her.
In the books, we’re privy to Vera’s internal thought processes; memories of a troubled father, private concerns for her staff, and a passion for the job that borders on obsession. Blethyn conveys all of it with a wink in one scene, a grimace in another. Vera could be written as a simple character, unkempt and callous with a heart of gold. Nuances in the script and the acting infuse her with complexity.
Alibis are uttered, backgrounds are checked, and the suspects ramp up gradually. A grieving son-of-the-murdered becomes unhinged while his girlfriend meets with his mother behind his back. Another acid-tongued mom ferociously protects her teenage son whose court case hinged on the testimony of the deceased. Before you know it there are no less than a dozen suspects, all with believable motives.
Vera starts off the episode assured and calm; by the half-hour mark, she’s snapping at colleagues and moaning in frustration, her trench coat flapping in the breeze. Yet she maintains professional decorum for suspect interviews. A ‘love’ here and a ‘pet’ peppered into her questions puts the recipients of her inquiries at ease.
Part of the joy of watching the series is the consistent quality of guest stars. Lorraine Ashbourne, wife of noted voice actor Andy Serkis and an accomplished performer in her own right, inhabits the victim’s wife so naturally that you’d think she’d been playing her for years. Conor Lowson sneers and intimidates with such derision as one of the main suspects the audience must be rooting for him to fry from the get-go.
All against the sometimes gritty, sometimes lush Northumberland setting. In an era where television series don’t often run as long as they used to, it’s nice to be able to return to this particular scene of the crime.