|Joe (David Leon) and Vera (Brenda Blethyn). Pics: ITV|
ITV: starts Sunday, 27 April, 8pm
Story: Vera investigates the mysterious death of pensioner Margaret Kraszewski on a busy Newcastle Metro train at the height of rush hour.
DCI VERA STANHOPE is back, news that will cheer a growing battalion of fans for the Geordie detective.
This is the fourth series for the character based on Ann Cleeves’ novels and played by award-winning Brenda Blethyn. The show is something of a banker for ITV, with series three winning a consolidated audience of 6.5 million last year.
Why is it so popular? Well, a good setting always seems to win viewers and Vera has the spectacular backdrop of Northumberland going for it. Brenda Blethyn is hugely popular and her irascible, dumpy character – looking a bit like Paddington Bear – who clearly appeals to a lot of viewers.
And for the younger demographic, of course, there is David Leon as sidekick DS Joe Ashworth.
Murder on the Metro
There are four two-hour films coming and as is the norm for these big ITV series, the producers have lined up a good rota of guest actors, including Paul Copley (Last Tango in Halifax, Downton Abbey), Tilly Vosburgh (Holby City, Holding On), Kellie Bright (EastEnders), Clive Russell (Ripper Street, Game of Thrones), William Ash (Great Night Out, Waterloo Road) and Robert Glenister (Hustle, The Great Train Robbery).
|Joe and wife Celine (Sonya Cassidy)|
The opener, On Harbour Street, gets the season off to a good start, too. A pensioner, Margaret
Kraszewski, is found dead with a stab wound on the rush-hour Newcastle Metro. Joe and his daughter Jessie happen to be on the train, and Jessie has the anguish of discovering the body.
The victim lived in a small seaside community (more lovely scenery) that holds a secret, and an interesting aspect to the story is the impact the case has on Joe’s personal life, as Jessie becomes the case’s principal witness and tensions in his marriage to Celine surface.
New pathologist Marcus Summer
All of which is alien territory to loner Vera, who seems out of touch and unsympathetic with the problems Joe is facing.
|Pathologist Marcus (Kingsley Ben-Adir)|
Devotees will no doubt enjoy this latest series, which, apart from the addition of a new young
pathologist, Marcus Summer (TV newcomer Kingsley Ben-Adir), sticks closely to the whodunit/procedural format.
Vera is polished and well crafted, but these ITV series, although popular, are surely beginning to feel a bit dated. The likes of Lewis and DCI Banks all seem a bit shallow these days in the light of more character-driven successes – The Killing, Broadchurch, Line of Duty and Scott & Bailey.
The dated procedural template, complete with scenic backdrops, is easy viewing but reduces interesting protagonists from successful book series into cops on a loop. In every episode Banks, Lewis and Vera do the same thing. They turn up at the crime scene, ask questions, throw a tantrum, solve the crime. They never change or develop.
TV waters down Vera
Rebus was another terrific character, from Ian Rankin’s series of superb novels, who was reduced to a whodunit-solving cliche on TV. And while Ann Cleeves’ is rightly enjoying a lot of success with Vera and Shetland over on the Beeb, her creations are far more fascinating and affecting on the page.
In books such as The Crow Trap, Vera is obese, boozy, lonesome and perhaps not easy to like – but able to get through to friends and relatives of victims through her empathy. On TV she’s been niced-up, made more presentable and simplified.
But wouldn’t it be great to see Brenda Blethyn stretching her talent by playing that more challenging and difficult Vera?
Cast: Brenda Blethyn DCI Vera Stanhope, David Leon DS Joe Ashworth, Jon Morrison DC Kenny Lockhart, Clare Calbraith DC Rebecca Shepherd, Sonya Cassidy Celine Ashworth, Kingsley Ben-Adir Pathologist Marcus Summer, Riley Jones DC Mark Edwards, Olivia Armstrong Jessie Ashworth