The fact that the opening of wunderkind Mike Oldfield’s 1973 debut Tubular Bells starts this finale merely points up that this tune is remembered by many for featuring in director William Friedkin’s outstanding and genre-busting horror film The Exorcist (released the same year). It also launched the career of a certain Richard Branson, as it was the first album released by Virgin Records. So it doesn’t really sit well in the context of this misguided prequel to the groundbreaking Prime Suspect series. It comes as Cliff Bentley (Alun Armstrong) runs from the conflagration at the bank that claims the life of DI Bradfield (Sam Reid). It is a good explosion, but with pretty cheap-looking CGI flames.
David Bentley (Jay Taylor) of course had already legged it (well, hobbled it) back home to mum Renee (Ruth Sheen) as soon as he’d noticed the police activity on the street. As sirens blare out around his estate, Renee, obviously expecting her old man and older son to be arrested, gives her little boy the wodge of family cash to make good his escape.
Inside the bank, DS Gibbs (Blake Harrison) is discovered bloody and deafened by the blast, but he’s well off compared with Bradfield, and WPC Kath Morgan (Jessica Gunning), who is unconscious. John Bentley is also dead. The CID officers bar a frantic Tennison (Stefani Martini) from the building, although the use of Saving Private Ryan’s small shutter degree effect feels de trop here.
Bentley gets a small stash of cash back to the flat, and then leaves Renee to face the music.
Morgan is wheeled into intensive care to the strains of Pink Floyd’s Great Gig In the Sky (Dark Side Of The Moon was massive that year) and as singer Claire Torry screams her heart out, Tennison sits in the station locker room crying for her dead love. No such thing as counselling in these days. And no peace for the wicked either: “Best thing is to keep busy,” Desk Sergeant Harris (Andrew Brooke) tells her.
There is a touching moment of near-reality between Morgan and Gibbs sitting together in the hospital ward as they compare notes on the quick and the dead – probably the best dialogue they get.
And this is a real watershed day for Tennison, who discovers what we’ve been shouting at her for weeks – that Bradfield was married with children. Get used to it, love, it’ll be your lot in life. And she starts lone drinking. But somehow, through the artfully arranged tears, she remains looking Instagram-perfect.
In a cruel irony Tennison, having saved Renee from a mugger, has to arrest her to question her about David’s involvement with Julie Ann’s death. A bundle of bank notes is found in the lock-up matching those Julie Ann took from her dad – she was doing a deal with O’Duncie and had left the stash at the lock up – did David end up throttling her to find out where it was? Of course not.
Again, cop clichés are tripped out in the wrap-up: “You’re in this up to your neck” DC Edwards (Joshua Hill) tells Renee during interrogation; “We’d have a better chance of getting Bentley’s mates to tap-dance than co-operate” from Gibbs; and – finally, The Sweeney’s sine qua non“You’re nicked”.
The Bentleys’ van is found, containing a ribbon from of Julian Ann’s bra – she was moved to her resting site in the van. The family’s known associates are knocked up; Gibbs is cold-cocked by Bentley Senior, who is holed up in a pub. He escapes, leaving pathetic David ready to jump from its roof for lost love Julie Ann – murdered by his brother John for blabbing about the bank job.
David’s demise is as piteous as his life. Predictably, Tennison goes onto the roof to save him and he dies after Dad comes back with a gun and threatens her. In the tussle David is shot – and dies coughing blood all over her nice smart uniform.
Still, she’s not likely to need it for long – Harris tells her the top brass has its eyes on her as detective material. But until then, she’s back on comms…
Bradfield’s funeral cortege is a strangely tasteful affair to the strains of Woodstock by Joni Mitchell. When Tennison’s parents arrive to comfort her they ask her to pack and come home – but she won’t return.
It’s bookended by Piece Of My Heart by Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company, which just goes to prove again that the soundtrack has been more stellar than the tale.
The actors were not well served by a vapid script. Whether Glen Laker’s adaptation was faithful to Lynda La Plante’s novel we don’t know, but the forms are different for a reason and great TV writers can take the most pedestrian of books and turn them into scintillating series (ever tried reading the novel House of Cards before Andrew Davies transmuted it for the BBC in the 1990s? Don’t bother). Laker, we should point out, did sterling work on the previous series of Vera.
This was a slight story (fine in a novel) stretched out to an over-long 300 minutes (give or take) and tied up in a few minutes of screen time, leaving many plot-holes and loose ends and offering little in the way of a clear-up. As far as we know, handsome drug dealer O’Duncie is still in the cells on the hook for Eddie’s murder, having been jettisoned by his sleazy lawyer. But he obviously wasn’t the capo of the Hackney Connection. And no follow-up either on his receptionist sister Teresa supplying heroin from the drug clinic, which just wouldn’t have been feasible without inside help. So no real twists – no surprise suspects are ever unearthed. ‘The boys down the station’ were given too little to do and seemed so confused most of the time it was no wonder a rookie ran rings around them. And the pace of direction was slow when the tendency is towards slick.
With the likes of Line Of Duty, Unforgotten, and a reanimated Broadchurch so recently back on the beat, Prime Suspect 1973 looked not just passé but unconsciously so. No one seemed committed enough. And this was not down to the ‘CSI effect’ and the technology being 44 years old. Crime period pieces can work – we’ve already invoked the spirit of Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes, but the non-surreal In Plain Sight with Martin Compston was also a case in point. If the script is there the performances should be too.
Are we supposed to infer that Tennison’s first professional brushes with death and this Big Life Lesson marked her transfiguration from wide-eyed, ingenuous but plucky girl to the flinty character of her Mirren incarnation? If so, it’s fallacious and not psychologically borne out: she went on making unwise relationship choices – it was part of her charm – a charm intrinsic to her screen embodiment by Dame Helen. The ethereally lovely Martini was on a hiding to nothing in an ill-conceived cash-in. We look forward to seeing her in something more worthy of her talents.
For all our reviews of Prime Suspect 1973, go here