Review: Prime Suspect 1973 (S1 E4/6), Thursday 23rd March, ITV

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Free’s high-octane Wishing Well from the 1972 album Heartbreaker kicks off this episode – and DS Spencer Gibbs (Blake Harrison) would do well to heed singer Paul Rodgers’ warning: “Throw down your gun, you might shoot yourself, or is that what you’re trying to do?”

NB: Spoilers inside

Having rearranged the very handsome features of drug-dealing murder suspect Terrence O’Duncie (Aaron Pierre) during the raid on the squat, he faces a potentially career-ending disciplinary hearing.

WPC Tennison (Stefanie Martini) is experiencing a dark night of the soul; at the tender age of 22 and only months after leaving Hendon Police College, she’s seeing her dream career-tarnishing. Not only that, the people she has hitherto admired are now appearing decidedly morally compromised – even her fellow probationer Kath Morgan (Jessica Gunning) seems acclimatised to the laddish canteen culture. Welcome to real life, Jane.

But as life at the nick gets grimier and the characters surrounding her more morally nebulous, Martini – her wide green eyes getting more animé by the second – looks increasingly like the Disney princess from Frozen. All it needs is for her to burst out singing Let it Go. “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see, Be the good girl you always have to be.” Well, the sentiment fits, anyway.

Mummy and Daddy may not have approved of her joining the Metropolitan Police, however proud they were at her passing-out parade, and now it looks as if they are vindicated and she should have taken their advice and opted for a nice safe secretarial job.

It doesn’t help that her superior officer DI Bradfield (Sam Reid) is falling far short of the archetypal Disney prince – he’s behaving more like Mad Men’s Don Draper, albeit less adept at the business of seduction. It is the fourth episode so, with a depressing inevitability, she and Bradfield must pass beyond the point of no return between the sheets.

I know my rights,” smooth criminal O’Duncie tells the cops as he demands his solicitor – well, someone had to say it. It sounds like something out of a British movie from the 1950s – you can almost hear George Cole’s Flash Harry. And the clichés and hackneyed references keep coming.

He looks like he’s gone 10 rounds with Henry Cooper,” says surly Desk Sergeant Harris (Andrew Brooke). Is it in TV scriptwriter’s lore that any screen fight set in the 1970s has to invoke ’Enry’s ’Ammer even though this is 10 years after he beat Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in a non-title fight?  

Such platitudinous guff continues. “I can delay this, but it won’t go away – make sure Gibbs gets his story straight,” adds Harris, unless anyone has missed the point.

Meanwhile, at the café adjoining the bank, the Bentleys’ pneumatic drill must be waking them up three streets away; it’s so loud that café owner Silas has to go down and pull the plug out to tell them there’s a (dim) copper outside. Lookout ‘Eagle’s nest’ – alias zonked-out David, has gone AWOL. Never make a junkie keep cavey during a robbery.

While the cops are all trying to synchronise their stories for the investigation into Gibbs, fall guy Eddie Philips finally pops up in Regent’s Canal – complete with empty syringe and caved-in head.

Tennison is trying to blank her boss, horrified that he exercised so little control over Gibbs during O’Duncie’s arrest. Giving evidence to an internal affairs investigation – Harris leans on her to say she was downstairs “when it all kicked off” – is her first skirmish with police corruption. Gibbs tries to talk her round as nicely as he’s able – he fears he’s going to be suspended.

Tennison later enjoys a bop to The Sweet’s Block Buster at her sister Pam’s hen do – and good-naturedly suffers some sisterly teasing about Bradfield – it is the most relaxed we’ve seen her.

That all stops when her mother (Geraldine Somerville) intercepts Bradfield making a late-night call to the family’s Maida Vale mansion block. “He’s been drinking, I can smell it on him,” she says, pursing her lips disapprovingly. Her parents warn her he’ll cast her aside once she lies for him. Bradfield gives her the script for her interview – “if you do this the whole station will stand by you.” We wouldn’t count on that.

She looks at a vacancy for the police section house – it is a significant parting of the ways and marks her growing estrangement from her family that we saw play out in the later Mirren series.

Serial banknotes taken from O’Duncie are identified as those Collins drew from the bank to give daughter Julie Ann to pay off Eddie’s drug debt.

Flowers (Jodie Tyack), a girl from the squat, is going through cold turkey in the cells and threatening to shop Gibbs for beating O’Duncie. Tennison earns kudos from the lads by pacifying Flowers long enough to confirm O’Duncie’s connection to Julie Anne and Eddie. She admits that Eddie collapsed and died after a heroin hit in the squat – before she gets the shakes and is taken to hospital. Tennison also proves adept with Eddie’s grandma at the formal the identification of his body.

The pathology lab confirms that Eddie was offed with rat poison-laced smack. Faced with this testimony, O’Duncie’s snooty solicitor gives him an eloquent look that says: “You’re on your own, mate.”

The question of who is supplying O’Duncie with his gear remains unanswered.

Thus, Tennison plays the game and takes one for the team as Bradfield asked, only momentarily giving the impression she feels soiled.

Now she has jumped off her lofty moral pedestal, Tennison is taken to her colleagues’ bosom. She goes off-duty boozing with them at the local pub where Gibbs – looking more like Cap’n Jack Sparrow than Sir Ray, does his Kinks’ thing with his band The Smooth (geddit? Yes, it is a bit laboured) with You Really Got Me. His singing is about as professional as his policing. He’s obviously trying to show he has a poetic, art school side, but it isn’t convincing. We’re bang in the middle of the glam rock period, so Gibbs is missing a trick by not dressing the part. OK, he couldn’t do a Bolan perm or a sleek bob à la Brian Connolly, but a little kohl and glitter as sported by many pub bands then wouldn’t have gone amiss.

However, the jolly celebration is a reminder of the days before aggressive gentrification eradicated the rambling old Victorian gin palaces, sweeping away forever the kind of venues where you could see budding mega-acts honing their craft.

She might have garnered some credibility among colleagues, but Tennison is still given what they perceive to be menial tasks. She is sent to see local radio ham Ashley Brennan, who is dismissed as the local crackpot at the nick. But this time Brennan proves to be a veritable one-man WikiLeaks – he’s recorded shortwave transmissions between the Bentleys.

Checking on Flowers at the hospital, Tennison sees the Bentley boys making trouble at the nurses’ station – are they are trying to see patient records?

Julie Ann’s green bead bangle – partner to one retained by her parents – lies under a cabinet in the Bentleys’ lock-up. Did Julie Ann drop it there in a tryst with daffy David – or was it taken when she was murdered? We’re guessing that it is merely David’s keepsake from when he found her body. Poor David – we don’t think he’s much longer for this world if brother John has another paddy about his worsening drug habit and unreliability.

Harris, picking up on Tennison’s theory that the Bentleys are up to no good, is starting to understand that this girl is not just a pretty face.

But that is another problem with this series.

For all the pains the production designers have gone to with the décor, cars and clothes, Baby Jane looks too modern; no heavy ’70s foundation and a blonde shade that nothing from Boots could then offer. Gorgeous O’Duncie (before the cuts and bruises) looks like he’s stepped out of this month’s GQ magazine, and Bradfield looks like Simon Baker’s character in LA Confidential. Only Gibbs looks truly ‘period’ – it’s the hair; squint and he’s a poor man’s Pacino as Serpico (a great 1973 release). We’ve developed a soft spot for Gibbs because he’s the only character who’s coming off as near credible – Blake Harrison transcends some horrible dialogue. Dear Gibbs, the reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier.

Deborah Shrewsbury
@shrewdkitty

For all our reviews of Prime Suspect 1973, go here

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4 thoughts on “Review: Prime Suspect 1973 (S1 E4/6), Thursday 23rd March, ITV

  1. PKCox

    I love reading your reviews of Prime Suspect 1973-I think they’re better and more entertaining than the show itself must be ( I’m in America and haven’t seen it yet). Thanks as always, Deborah!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gaaah… who is writing this drek? Where is Jane Tennison? No one could possibly believe that THIS character became the lead in Prime Suspect, no wai. I really want to love this series, but first the producers need to engage a writer who can produce intelligent, provocative and mature scripts, not this driveling fanfic.

    Also, if Martini doesn’t pluck her brows, she will continue to stand out like the proverbial sore thumb in the ’70s; when it was fashionable to wear brows as thinly plucked as possible. She looks like a timid rabbit half the time, when she isn’t making stupid decisions.

    Speaking of which… I shouted at the TV when they first kissed, so the full snog just really pissed me off. Dumb does not quite cover it.

    TLDR: Need. Better. Writers. And. Thinner. Brows.

    Like

    • Seija

      Marblex, I feel and share your frustration. Couldn’t have said it better myself. I also started to watch this show with such high hopes but piece by piece my hope has fallen apart. As somebody wrote in another comment here, Shaun Evans is DC Endeavour Morse but Stefanie Martini is NOT future DCI Jane Tennison.

      Liked by 1 person

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