Vera Set 1
Recurring character(s): Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn), Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth (David Leon), Detective Constable Holly Lawson (Wunmi Mosaku), Dr. Billy Cartwright (Paul Ritter)
Original air date(s): 05/01/2011 to 05/22/2011 (UK)
DVD Date: 08/30/2011
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 355 minutes
Note(s): Screenplays for three of the episodes in this set are adapted from the crime novels in the Vera Stanhope series of mysteries by Ann Cleeves.
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Review: Based on a character created by Ann Cleeves, with three of the four episodes in this set adapted from the crime novels in the series, Vera stars Brenda Blethyn as Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope, who manages a group of police officers based in rural Northumberland, England. I haven't read any of the books in this series, not for any lack of interest but because I don't think they've ever been published here in the US.
Vera — nearly everyone calls her "Ma'am" — is unmarried, childless (or so we presume), and, in the first episode, now alone in the world when her father passes on. In one way or another, her lack of an immediate family plays a significant role in all of the episodes presented here. For example, she treats her second in command, Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth (David Leon), more like a son than a subordinate.
Overall, I really enjoyed this series. I can see where Vera as a character might be hard for some viewers to take to; a bit frumpish in appearance, she's overbearing, brusque, demanding and hardly endearing. But she's also vulnerable and despite her position of authority, somewhat insecure. I found her complexity rather refreshing in a crime drama, and for the most part, Brenda Blethyn does an exceptional job of portraying her. For better or worse, she does dominate the screen; everyone else, especially her co-workers, seems to fade into the often monochromatic background when she's present.
The first episode is titled "Hidden Depths" and is adapted from the third book in the series. I will freely admit I haven't a clue what this episode was about, but at some level, that didn't matter much to me, as I found this introduction to Vera Stanhope to be riveting. I'll go out on a limb here and speculate that the screenwriter(s) attempted to strictly keep to the storyline in the book, trying to include all the twists and turns from the original source material … and consequently failed at producing a comprehensible story for viewers to follow. To some degree, this is a problem with all of the novel adaptations, that they're far too complicated for a 90-minute screenplay. One aspect of this episode that really bothered me, however, is the ever-present use of a handheld camera. Vera tends to talk to people and interview suspects while walking, so there is a lot of very jerky camera movement shown here.
The second episode, "Telling Tales", is adapted from the second book in the series. Family themes predominate as Vera reopens a murder investigation that was closed by her ambitious and politically motivated predecessor. The storyline here is also excessively complicated, but fortunately someone must have gotten the memo to hold the camera steadier, making the episode far more watchable.
"The Crow Trap" is adapted from the first book in the series, and is arguably the best of the four. For starters, it's much easier to follow plot-wise. Included are what seem to be by now the requisite familial themes, but they aren't quite so front and center as in the previous two episodes. Possibly more important, at least to me, I found the storyline misdirection to be more adeptly handled resulting in a better whodunit/whydunit experience.
The final episode, "Little Lazarus", is the only one in the set not based on an existing novel. It is also by far the most weakly plotted, suggesting that the screenwriter(s) really need the author — or someone else — to give them an idea to start from. This is also the only episode where I thought Vera as a character was a little annoying, being in full out-of-control mode when a young boy is orphaned by the death of his mother. (Again, the family tie.) Despite the near constant histrionics, it's actually kind of a flat, boring episode.
The final episode notwithstanding, I strongly recommend this first season of Vera. A second season is in production — hopefully with Ann Cleeves acting as a script advisor; there are also two other books in the series that could be adapted — and I will certainly be looking forward to watching it.
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