Review: Vera (S5 E4/4), Sunday 26th April, ITV

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When much-loved family man and all-round pillar of the community Owen Thorne does a header off a multi-storey car park after picking up his foster daughter Lila from her school prom, no one can throw light on who could have such a beef with him. Even more puzzling, he has bruising consistent with a previous fight.

‘He could have waited until Monday morning,’ says DS Healy (Kenny Doughty), ruefully, as he hobbles around injured after an emergency services footie match with local firefighters (tough guys, Healy, you should have known better).

If he meant to jump, why pay to park? reasons Vera. Well, Owen definitely went of the roof headfirst and backwards – a pretty unusual way to commit suicide. And when they see CCTV footage at the paystation, the cops see he was surprised by someone while Lila was waiting in the car on the floor below.

It transpires that he was under a cloud at work; his colleagues blame his negligence at work for the death of a young man at work, Tom McKittrick, a short while before – although they all turn up to his wake at the local pub on the tab of employer at the local docks.

Suspicion initially falls on the boy’s father, Mick (Rob Jarvis), who worked at the docks and following his son’s death and a failed compensation case, has been off sick having an emotional breakdown. All this is carefully recounted to Vera by the nice helpful lady in the dock’s office, Gloria Edwards (Rachel Cassidy), who seems to know an awful lot about what goes down on the factory floor, so to speak, but then, she is responsible for logging employees in and and out and admits that she had clocked Owen in when he rang in to say he’d couldn’t come in – well, she didn’t want to lose him any holiday leave, did she?

Owen’s good deeds also extend to extracurricular volunteering for an outreach programme, at which he has developed a relationship with young alcohol-abusing Mancunian runaway Hannah (Levi Heaton); is his interest in her merely a pastoral one?

Local small-time drug dealer Logan Tilley also falls under suspicion after CCTV shows footage of him confronting Owen in the street. But although it’s subsequently clear that Tilley is Lila’s natural father and he’s a ne’er-do-well, he is discounted pretty early on as feckless rather than truly vengeful.

In Vera, the solution to murder most often lies, as in real life, with kith and kin. Hannah, it transpires is Owen’s daughter by a one-night stand – and she has tried to re-establish links with him although he has made it clear to her that his wife, son and soon-to-be-adopted Lila are his priority. She makes out to the police that she is copacetic with this, but is this true or does she have another agenda?

And indeed blood ties are in play in this final episode of the series, as many secrets and lies (fnaar!) are being withheld by Owen and those surrounding him. His teenage son Cameron (Daniel Ezra) suspected his father of cheating on this mother (Ellie (Nadine Marshall), having had a dust-up with him before his death-plunge.

Of course, it is clear from fairly early on that Gloria, the nice lady in the docks office is the aforementioned one-night stand and so Hannah’s mother, who has led Owen a merry dance including a histrionic dash to the ER for alcohol poisoning.

Unfortunately, this most measured and laid-back of cop procedurals suddenly becomes unhinged, forgets its rather sleepy provincial setting and in the final 10 minutes becomes Fast & Furious as Vera’s old jalopy gets a hammering down the B-roads in pursuit of Glo the bunny-boiler, who has kidnapped Ellie in a ride to near-oblivion reminiscent of the kidnap of Scott & Bailey’s boss a couple of years ago .

We’ll forgive the series this lapse into TV-tropes Hell for once, because of Vera’s steadfastness and refusal to be rushed into this kind of puerile behaviour on a regular basis. Let’s just hope this was an aberration.

‘In my experience dust never settles in life, does it?’ says Vera , as she debriefs Healy over a cuppa. Uncharacteristically looking on the bright side, she notes that Healy has settled his karma by saving Ellie’s life after the car chase – making up for the life he had taken during his time on the drug squad.

There is something reassuring and rather wonderful about living in a nation that would take a character like Vera to its heart and weave a hit TV series around her – never mind get it to five runs.

Imagine it happening in the US – no, it could never happen.

Yes, scruffy older men US TV can cope with – Columbo was a stroke of total genius. But a post-menopausal woman with a booze-addled past and a troubled family background? OK, there was Christine Cagney, but she was also gorgeous with great legs and a creature still coveted by men, so she doesn’t really count.

Brenda Blethyn’s reading of Ann Cleeves’ dowdy character is a true triumph for British TV. She may not have male admirers but Vera has a coterie of surrogate kids in her staff to do her bidding – last week it was taking her coat for dry cleaning – this week it was taking her beat-up Land Rover for a valeting after chasing a suspect across a muddy field. Go on, Pet, you’re all right with us.

Deborah Shrewsbury

For our episode two review go here

For our episode three review go here

For our Brenda Blethyn interview go here

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