Rollover Information
Prime Suspect 1-5

Prime Suspect 1      TV MA, L, V

Airing Sundays
May 2 + 9, 2004 on PBS
(Check local listings; dates may vary)

D.C.I. Jane Tennison is a skilled, top-class detective, battling to prove herself in a male world. While investigating a murder, her strength of character and skills as a detective are put to the test as she exposes a cover-up within the force. And when a second murder victim is discovered, the inquiry turns into a grisly investigation stretching back over ten years.

Background | Story synopsis | Commentary
Cast & credits | What the press said... | Awards


Background

Prime Suspect 1 first aired on PBS in January and February of 1992. The program appeared on the series Mystery! and was introduced by then Mystery! host Diana Rigg.

With the arrival of Prime Suspect -- a thriller in which a female Detective Inspector investigates the murder of a young girl -- Jane Tennison became a favorite with viewers on both sides of the Atlantic. Tennison risks all in her relentless pursuit of duty and battles to prove herself. The inimitable Helen Mirren won raves for her performance.

The original idea for Prime Suspect, and the Tennison character, sprang from the imagination of writer Lynda La Plante. Born in Liverpool in 1946, at sixteen La Plante won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where she trained to be an actress. She began a successful stage and television career, working in repertory and joining the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

But in the early '80s, with the success of her miniseries Widows, La Plante gave up acting to devote herself to writing full-time.

"I realize that I have been a very lucky writer, luck that gets a script on the right desk at the right time -- the rest is hard work. However, much of that hard work is assisted, encouraged and honed down by script editors, producers, directors, editors and actors, and for me a television series or film is very much a group product; we all need each other to make it work, and when it does there is no better incentive for a writer to start work on the next project."

La Plante created Prime Suspect after watching reality-TV crime shows. After calling Scotland Yard and learning that there were only a handful of female DCIs, she interviewed one of them (Jackie Moulton), who impressed her so much that La Plante decided to base the plot on her.

Helen Mirren commented on her first outing in the role of Jane Tennison: "I'd describe her as extremely directed, ambitious, talented and very uncompromising. Therefore she is deeply frustrated by her job; the way her sex is a barrier. But she knows how to work the system. This is the first time I've played a policewoman, but I wouldn't say it's the first time I've played a character like her; in fact the character that I have played that is closest to her is Lady MacBeth! Of course she wasn't on the right side of law and order, but their single-mindedness and their ambition are very strong. I found it fascinating to play a policewoman -- it is quite easy for people to view the police as the enemy, alien in their uniforms. Tennison is plain-clothes, but she has the mantle of authority and power."

back to top


Prime Suspect 1 story synopsis - Plot Revealed Below!

In the early hours of a winter morning DCI John Shefford is called to a bedsit in Holborn where the brutally murdered body of a young woman has been discovered by the landlady. While DC Jones interviews her, DS Bill Otley hands Shefford a small black diary, which he promptly pockets. The pathologist finishes his initial examination, and the body, identified by Shefford as that of Delia Mornay, prostitute, is removed in a body bag.

Jane Tennison, attached to the same station as Shefford and of equal rank, is certain that she has, once again, been the victim of sexual discrimination. Although available at the first notification of the Della Mornay incident, her supervisors preferred to fish Shefford out of a drinking club rather than call upon her to head a murder enquiry.

The following day the body of Della Mornay is examined, and semen and blood samples show the man they are looking for has a rare blood group -- and there is a suspect in that category on the police computer, George Marlow, recently released from prison after serving a sentence for attempted rape.

While Shefford and his team set out to charge Marlow in record-breaking time, Tennison applies herself to routine police work and the demands of her home life with Peter Rawlins, her recently divorced live-in lover.

The situation changes dramatically when Shefford's regular diet of junk food, cigarettes and alcohol results in a massive heart attack, and Tennison, sensing that this is her moment, pressures her superiors and succeeds in taking over the enquiry.

Shefford is a hard act to follow, and his team is angry and incredulous that Tennison has been appointed his successor. Despite this she immerses herself in the details of the investigation, uncovering errors and conflicting facts about the case which convince her that though George Marlow is an obvious and convenient suspect, there is no real evidence against him. Then a second body is discovered, and what started as a single murder inquiry develops into an investigation stretching back over ten years......

back to top


Commentary - Plot Revealed Below!

The commentary below was presented by Diana Rigg, host of Mystery!, when Prime Suspect 1 first aired (in three parts) on that series in 1992.

Episode 1 - Introduction
A policeman's lot may not be a happy one -- but a policewoman's is even worse, as we'll see tonight in Prime Suspect, a thriller written especially for television.

At the center of the story is Jane Tennison, a policewoman who has fought her way up through the male ranks of Scotland Yard to become a Detective Chief Inspector. In spite of her experience, her superiors have never allowed her to head a homicide investigation.

DCI Tennison is one of a very select company. At the time Prime Suspect was written, there were only four female DCIs in Great Britain. And they've had to make some sacrifices for their success -- as Tennison will when she finally gets a crack at that elusive prize -- her own murder case.

As a woman on a mostly male police force, she must endure the open hostility of the men under her command who are none too happy about taking orders from a woman. It's no easier on the home front.

Wrestling with these pressures takes an emotional toll on her, unwilling as she is to admit it. Because deep in her heart, Jane Tennison knows there's one law a policewoman must obey above all others: Never let them see you cry.

Episode 2 - Introduction
In the last episode of Prime Suspect, Jane Tennison was denied the chance to lead a murder investigation -- not the first time she'd been passed over by the men who run Scotland Yard. But when the detective in charge of the case dropped dead of a heart attack, Tennison finally got the break she'd been waiting for.

Now she's really got her hands full. Not only does she have a brutal sex crime to solve, but she's working with a police force of men who don't think she's up to the job. Led by the odious Sergeant Otley, they try to sabotage her at every turn.

But Tennison just grits her teeth and starts digging into the case -- the rape and murder of a prostitute. Sergeant Otley recognized the victim as Della Mornay and tracked down a suspect -- George Marlow, who swears he left Della very much alive. Since the evidence against him is circumstantial, Tennison must now find more proof.

But the whole case turns upside-down when she discovers the victim is not Della Mornay, after all. Even worse, Sergeant Otley knew it and deliberately concealed her true identity -- as well as some important evidence.

The murder victim turns out to be Karen Howard, a young woman of good family. How did she end up in a prostitute's flat? And where is the real Della Mornay? Puzzling questions -- and Tennison doesn't have the answers. She's forced to release Marlow -- only to learn that Della has just been found -- murdered -- probably by the same man who killed Karen.

Now, an eyewitness has come forward to identify the killer in a police lineup. Tennison watches nervously as the witness paces back and forth -- and stops right in front of George Marlow.

Episode 3 - Introduction
Chief Inspector Jane Tennison thought she'd finally found the witness needed to build an airtight murder case against George Marlow. But the witness passed over Marlow in a police lineup.

Now, Tennison is more determined than ever to catch the killer, and she resolves to follow up every possible lead -- even Marlow's missing car, which he claims was stolen. But she thinks he's locked it away in a garage somewhere. When her men can't find it, she begins to doubt her suspicions.

Marlow traveled frequently on business -- always in the company of his girlfriend, Moyra. The inspector and her men start reviewing all unsolved murder cases in the areas the couple visited. In the process, they turn up four similar deaths from the past decade. What if this is the work of a serial killer and she's wasting precious time on Marlow?

Subjected to police searches and surveillance, Marlow is furious about his persecution -- and so is Tennison's boss. She's ordered to back off until she produces solid evidence tying him to the murders of Della Mornay and Karen Howard.

By now, her obsession with the case has begun to take its toll -- both at home and on the job. First, her live-in boyfriend moves out. Then, when she accuses a colleague of concealing important evidence, her boss blows his top -- and threatens to pull her off the case.

Episode 3 - Conclusion
While it's still rare for a woman to rise to the rank of detective chief inspector, as Jane Tennison did, women have served on the British police force for nearly 80 years. During World War I, when most able-bodied men were fighting at the front, the Home Office recognized -- reluctantly -- the need for a women's police force to keep the peace at home.

Oddly enough, many of these early policewomen were ex-jailbirds. As suffragettes, they'd been arrested for acts of protest -- such as chucking bricks through the windows of the same Home Office that would later appoint them guardians of the law.

For many years, their duties were restricted to patrolling public parks or rounding up delinquent children. But a handful of women slowly worked their way into the Criminal Investigation Department.

The press ridiculed the idea of female detectives, but these early policewomen quickly proved themselves. They cleared a path for future generations, who would rise higher and higher in the ranks of the force.

But it's been a long, hard climb, and it's still far from over -- as Jane Tennison would tell you...

back to top


Cast and credits

Cast

DCI Jane Tennison

Helen Mirren
DS Bill Otley

Tom Bell
DCS Michael Kernan

John Benfield
George Marlow

John Bowe
Moyra Henson

Zoë Wanamaker
Felix Norman

Bryan Pringle
Peter Rawlins

Tom Wilkinson
DCI John Shefford

John Forgeham
DS Terry Amson

Gary Whelan
DI Tony Muddyman

Jack Ellis
DI Frank Burkin

Craig Fairbrass
DC Jones

Ian Fitzgibbon
WPC Maureen Havers

Mossie Smith
DC Lillie

Philip Wright
DC Rosper

Andrew Tiernan
DC Haskons

Richard Hawley
DC Oakhill

Mark Spalding
DC Avison

Tom Bowles
DS Eastel

Dave Bond
DC Caplan

Seamus O'Neill
DI Caldicott

Marcus Romer
Cmdr. Trayner

Terry Taplin
Mrs. Marlow

Maxine Audley
Carol

Rosy Clayton
Willy Chang

Gareth Tudor Price
Tilly

Andrew Abrahams
Linda

Susan Brown
Pam

Jessica Turner
Sgt. Tomlins

Rod Arthur
Joyce

Fionnuala Ellwood
Arnold Upcher

James Snell
Mr. Shrapnel

Julian Firth
Lab Assistant

Maria Mescki
Annette Frisby

Ruskin Moya
Lab Assistant

Martin Reeve
Biker

Malcolm Freeman
Painter

Phil Hearne
Lab Assistant

John Ireland
Edward Harvey

Doug Fisher
Marianne

Francesca Ryan
Reg McKinney

Ian Hastings
Clerk of Court

Renny Krupinkski
Joey

Jeremy Warder
Helen Masters

Angela Bruce
Maj. Howard

Michael Fleming
Mrs. Howard

Daphne Neville
Mother

Sara Thurston
Michael

Ralph Fiennes
Reporter

Jimmy Hibbert
Karen

Julie Sumnall
Mr. Tennison

Wilfred Harrison
Mrs. Tennison

Noel Dyson
Tony

Owen Aaronovitch
Mrs. Salbanna

Anna Savva
Insp. Sleeth

Malcolm Raeburn
Toastmaster

Peter Dennis
Barman

Anthony Havering
DS Lambton

Mark Anthony Newman
TV Presenter

Brian Hayes
WPC 'Karen'

Sandra Butterworth
Witness

Vincent Pickering
WPC Southwood

Bryonie Pritchard
WPC Raeburn

Barbara Dryhurst
Uniformed Officer

Anthony Schaeffer
Witness

Tegan Summer


Credits

DirectorChris Menaul

WriterLynda La Plante

ProducersSally Head
Don Leaver

Director of PhotographyKen Morgan

Film EditorEddie Mansell

Production DesignerRoy Stonehouse

Art DirectorTom Brown

CastingDoreen Jones

Music Stephen Warbeck

Production ExecutiveCraig McNeil

back to top


What the press said...

A belter of a suspense thriller that will keep you enthralled to the bitter, terrible end...
     -- Time Out

A brilliant new series ... not to be missed under any circumstances...
     -- Daily Star

If we could count on a thriller half as exciting as this a couple of times a month somewhere on the airwaves, I'd never again call British television dull... Tom Bell (is) brilliantly repulsive...
     -- Daily Mirror

Strong story and very good performances from Mirren and from Tom Bell as her witheringly sexist, devious sergeant.
     -- Daily Telegraph

A tense, intriguing whodunit...
     -- Hello

A story that moves at a cracking pace, sweeping a cast of beautifully observed characters along with it...
     -- Sunday Times

Helen Mirren gives a star performance with just the right amount of nervy intensity...
     -- Sunday Telegraph

Mirren is, as usual quite brilliant, portraying a combination of guts, jitters and ruthless ambition which is utterly convincing...
     -- The Observer

Drama doesn't come any more gripping than Prime Suspect... I guarantee you'll quickly become hooked. Don't miss it...
     -- Sunday Post (Glasgow)

Prime Suspect pulls no punches. It rams them down your throat.... powerful stuff, superbly crafted and strong on gritty realism...
     -- The Sun

There are not many occasions nowadays when TV can persuade you to cancel everything to make sure you are home in time to see a particular program. This was a hard, gritty, realistic murder story... I hope you didn't miss it...
     -- Daily Mail

One of those of those rare shows that hook the nation: a TV event. Thousands must have postponed Monday night plans to follow this brutal murder case which swept you along with its driving pace. The cast was superb...
     -- The Sun

The nation has been united, divided, mesmerized, offended and generally caught up on Prime Suspect... People were telephoning each other across the country to compare notes...
     -- The Daily Telegraph

Did you catch the brilliant Prime Suspect? Tremendous writing and acting from Lynda La Plante, Helen Mirren and all involved...
     -- The Sun

I can't remember when I last came across such enthusiasm for a show as there was for Prime Suspect... I lost count of the number of people who raved about it...
     -- Daily Express

High-class, gripping drama... compelling viewing...
     -- Stroud News and Journal

Helen Mirren and her team: Absolute magic in the high-caliber Prime Suspect...
     -- Daily Mail

Tremendous stuff... The best thing was La Plante's fast, fearless plot... Every scene, every passing clip of conversation rang true...
     -- Daily Mirror

Helen Mirren... gave a transfixing performance...
     -- The Times

Television drama at it's powerful, elegant best with lines perfectly crafted by a woman who has an unerring ear for the truth...
     -- Daily Mail

240 minutes of edge-of-seat entertainment... Everyone you meet asks, "Did you see Prime Suspect?"
     -- Bristol Evening Post

What a resounding triumph... with every aspect of the production -- script, acting, directing -- fine-tuned to excellence.
     -- Manchester Evening News

I nominate Helen Mirren 'Television Actress of the Year' for her role in Prime Suspect.'
     -- Newcastle Journal

You may have required a strong stomach to watch it, but Prime Suspect could be one of THE dramatic events of this television year. Superbly written, directed and acted... a first-class effort from start to finish...
     -- Halifax Evening Courier

back to top


Awards

BAFTA TV Awards 1992
Banff Television Festival 1992
Broadcasting Press Guild Awards 1992
Edgar Allan Poe Awards 1993
Royal Television Society, UK 1992
Writers' Guild of Great Britain 1992


WGBH Logo PBS logo

©

Masterpiece Theatre Prime Suspect 1-5

Masterpiece is sponsored by: