Above Suspicion Set 1
Recurring character(s): Detective Constable Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly), Detective Chief Inspector James Langton (Ciarán Hinds), DI Mike Lewis (Shaun Dingwall), DS Paul Barolli (Daniel Caltagirone), DC Barbara Maddox (Michelle Holmes), Commander Jane Leigh (Nadia Cameron-Blakey)
Original air date(s): 01/04/2009 and 01/05/2009; 01/04/2010 to 01/06/2010
DVD Date: 03/06/2012
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 254 minutes
Note(s): Screenplays adapted, respectively, from the novels Above Suspicion (2004) and The Red Dahlia (2006) by Lynda La Plante.
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Review: Lynda La Plante is no stranger to crime fiction, having created several television series — most notably Prime Suspect — but also having written many crime novels, including six (to date) in the Anna Travis series. She combines both her talents here in the first two made-for-television adaptations of her books in the latter series.
Kelly Reilly stars as Detective Constable Anna Travis and I'll state right now she is completely miscast in this role. Ciarán Hinds stars as her boss, DCI James Langton and I'm not entirely sure he's cast properly either. I never really connected with either of them, which almost certainly impacted how I reacted to the episodes on this DVD set.
I haven't read either of the books from which these episodes were adapted — Above Suspicion, which gives the series its overall title; and The Red Dahlia — but have read a couple of the more recent ones featuring Anna Travis. The mental image I have of Anna Travis is most definitely not what I saw on screen. In principle that shouldn't be a serious problem, but for some reason it sure was for me.
The first episode is Above Suspicion and it is just awful. Almost unwatchable awful. Anna Travis is introduced as a rookie cop making rookie mistakes. I have no problem with that. But by the end she's playing the role of a seasoned veteran. I just didn't buy it. Worse, during her supposed transition she really doesn't do anything other than nod her head knowingly while showing pictures of suspects and victims to potential witnesses. She does no police work, investigating or detecting, as it were. She later simply sits there while the killer confesses his crimes to her and is subsequently recognized by her peers for her achievement. What achievement? The guy willingly and without coercion confessed. She didn't do a thing. Maybe my expectations were way too high given La Plante's previous track record, but I have to admit I couldn't believe how really poorly plotted this first episode was. I'm not sure if it was how thin the murder mystery storyline was or how the characters were presented and developed or some combination of both.
I nearly decided to skip the second episode but am glad I didn't, because The Red Dahlia is demonstrably better. It's not great, lacking in any originality and being almost totally derivative of other source material, but at a minimum there's some substance to the storyline, the detectives actually do something that resembles police work, and Anna Travis isn't quite as unbelievable as she is in the first episode. This episode is much longer than the first, and while it could easily have been cut by 30-40 or more minutes, at least it held my attention throughout.
I'm don't quite know what to make of this series. There's a lot of talent here, both in front of and behind the camera. It's possible I simply had far too high, or completely wrong, expectations going in. Or maybe I was let down by the overall budget look to the productions that gave the episodes an amateurish quality. Or maybe I was turned off by the disturbing scenes of dead victims in situ and in the morgue (as well as in numerous photographs) that seemed intended to shock me into overlooking how flimsy the characters and murder mystery plots really are. Whatever the case may be, I was incredibly disappointed.
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