Television is a medium that constantly finds itself surrounded by naysayers. There are always those who insist that it does nothing but pander to the lowest common denominator – that it does nothing but hit new lows on a regular basis. Trying to argue with such people can be a difficult task, but come the second week in September there will be a new weapon to wield against such speakers of doom and gloom.
In a few short weeks Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act, starring Helen Mirren as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison, will be released to DVD after initially airing in the United States on PBS last November. Even before this season of the show, Mirren has been nominated for, and won, several acting honors for her work as Tennison, and this season proves no different, with her garnering several awards including an Emmy nomination (the awards will be presented on September 16, and she may well win).
Tennison is a ready-to-retire detective trying to cope with her father's rapidly declining health, her estrangement from the rest of her family, and her deepening problem with alcohol. As if that were not enough, she is working her final case, the disappearance of a 14-year-old girl, Sallie Sturdy. Repeatedly pushed to, and pushing herself to, the brink, Tennison somehow finds a way to keep going.
One of those ways is befriending a witness on the case, Penny Philips (Laura Greenwood). Penny, a teenager, is one of Sallie's best friends and may hold some key clues in the disappearance. Penny gets to see all of Tennison's faults, including her drinking, and remains moderately curious as to why Tennison would want to be friends with her, not that she is unwilling to use the friendship to exploit Tennison. The relationship is fascinating in that Tennison clearly sees much of her young self in Penny which is why Tennison befriends her. Yet, Penny's behavior is at turns kind and cruel, perhaps giving added insight into Tennison.
As far as the mystery itself goes, things remain murky and unclear early on, with numerous possible suspects lurking around every corner. As the story progresses, the solution to the crime becomes more and more apparent, finally clearly presenting itself to the audience before Tennison sees it. Whether or not this was intended is unclear; however, the show is no less interesting for the solution revealing itself well prior to Tennison spotting it. Mirren is absolutely riveting on-screen, completely owning every minute of Prime Suspect 7, and more than making up for any possible weaknesses in the mystery.
When the story does finally reach its conclusion, and Tennison's career reaches its end, the viewer is left in awe at the strength (and weakness) of this hero. It is a conclusion that perfectly befits Prime Suspect and Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison.
Even if one has not seen any of the other Prime Suspect series, this one is readily accessible to the viewer. It is, after all, a police officer trying to solve a mystery, which is something that everyone has seen before. Yet, through the writing of Frank Deasy, the direction of Philip Martin, and Mirren herself, the story is elevated from simple “police mystery” to something far, far better.
The DVD contains a fifty minute behind-the-scenes featurette as well as cast filmographies and a photo gallery. While any or all of those bonus features may be interesting to some of the audience, what truly sells the DVD is Mirren and her performance.