|Brenda Blethyn as Vera. Pics: ITV|
ITV1: Sunday, 22 April, 8pm
Story: Vera is reunited briefly and tragically with her first sergeant and mentor, Stuart Macken. Now a shadow of the man Vera once knew, Macken has been burned when his house was petrol-bombed, and his daughter badly injured. Vera sets out to discover who had a grudge against her old friend, turning initially to Brian, the new husband of Macken’s ex-wife and now stepfather to his daughter…
Unlikely cop Vera – played with pathos and cussedness by Brenda Blethyn – returns for four more two-hour investigations. TV’s current quest for strong female leading characters, Vera’s quirkiness and the stunning Northumberland setting made last year’s debut series a ratings success, averaging 6.5 million viewers.
It’s a good, mainstream drama, based on the stories and characters of novelist Ann Cleeves. There’s nothing edgy about it, being the detective plus sidekick (DS Joe Ashworth) format that British TV is rooted to.
|David Leon is DS Ashworth|
What raises Vera above say, Lewis, is that it takes time out from the interminable questioning of suspects to explore Vera Stanhope’s existence. She’s a pretty sad character – great at her job, but lonely, overweight (hugely so in the books) and partial to a whisky in her solitude.
Vera on edge
Her creator describes her as looking more like a bag lady than a detective, though with her floppy-brimmed hat and big coat she looks quite like Paddington Bear. She likes her colleague Joe (David Leon), but shuns socialising with the happily married sergeant.
A sharp scene in this opener, ‘The Ghost Position’, occurs when Joe finally corners Vera into joining him and his wife for dinner. Surrounded by all the trappings of companionable family life, Vera is on edge, eventually blurting out that she has lied about getting a clean bill of health from her doctor. She is actually suffering from angina.
Such moments inject the drama with a lot more emotion and humanity than the usual plodding towards the resolution of whodunit.
|Dark deeds… Joe and Vera at the burned-out house|
Fighting her grief
This new case is also a personal one for Vera. When her former sergeant, Stuart Macken, is injured after his home is petrol-bombed, Vera is shocked to see that her old mentor is a shadow of his former self.
This is partly to do with the fact that he is injured and his daughter, Stella, severely so, in the inferno, but also that his career nosedived after his divorce, prompting him to become a threatening menace towards his wife and her new husband.
Further tragedy hits unhappy Stuart, and Vera fights her grief to track down the person with a motive for attacking the policeman and his daughter. Family secrets and an elusive misfit lead to a surprising and emotional – if slightly torturous – climax.
But ultimately, the investigation is just an excuse to spend time with Brenda Blethyn as Northumberland’s very own Columbo – scruffy, easily underestimated but very sharp.
Cast: Brenda Blethyn DCI Vera Stanhope, David Leon D.S. Joe Ashworth, Wunmi Mosaku D.C. Holly Lawson, Jon Morrison DC Kenny Lockhart, Paul Ritter Pathologist Billy Cartwright, Julie Graham Marianne, Steven Hartley Stuart Macken, Jessica Barden Stella Macken, Ron Cook Brian, Brougan West Dougie Cranham, Emily Woof Janice, Rosie Leslie Lena Mayhew, Nina Sosanya Rachel Waite, Richard Stacey Bellowes, Sonya Cassidy Celine