Vera series 4 DVD REVIEW

DVD: ★★★½  

DCI Vera Stanhope is a dumpy, grumpy sleuth. She doesn’t do car chases, punch-ups or catchphrases such as, ‘Get yer trousers on, you’re nicked’.

But as happened with Columbo, viewers like her. When the fourth series came to ITV in April – the series included in this DVD collection – Brenda Blethyn’s character blew away the Sunday night opposition, winning almost six million viewers and leaving The Crimson Fields in the dust.

The drama even beat its own record of 4.5million for the start of last year’s series.

What’s the secret? The 68-year-old actress puts its down to Vera’s bossiness and lack of glamour. ‘She’s ordinary like a lot of people at home,’ Brenda says.

‘It’s a show people feel comfortable with and I’ll continue playing Vera for as long as they audience wants to see her.’

That along with the wonderful Northumberland setting and sidekick DS Joe Ashworth, played by the not-dumpy or grumpy David Leon. Apart from that the format is your typical TV police procedural – body, forensics, where were you on the night of the 14th.

The four films here  – On Harbour Street, Protected, The Deer Hunters and Death of a Family Man –are well-made 90-minute mysteries, beautifully filmed. The last one is particularly good.

Death of a Family Man stars Robert Glenister, and is about the mysterious death of a businessman, found floating under the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. His wife is stunned to discover he was working as a spy – for Revenue and Customs.

This is fine collection for Vera‘s growing army of fans. The only thing it lacks are some DVD extras.

RRP: £19.99. Certificate: 12. Discs: 2. Running time: 355mins approx. Available from Amazon

Also check out our review of On Harbour Street

Follow @crimetimeprev

Vera ITV, with Brenda Blethyn, David Leon PREVIEW

VERA IV EPISODE 1 - On Harbour Street  Picture shows: DAVID LEON as DS Joe Ashworth and BRENDA BLETHYN as DCI Vera Stanhope.
Joe (David Leon) and Vera (Brenda Blethyn). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

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).

VERA IV EPISODE 1 - On Harbour Street  Picture shows: DAVID LEON as DS Joe Ashworth and SONYA CASSIDY as Celine Ashworth.
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.

VERA IV EPISODE 1 - On Harbour Street  Picture shows: KINGSLEY BEN-ADIR as Marcus Summer.
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.

VERA IV EPISODE 1 - On Harbour Street  Picture shows: BRENDA BLETHYN as DCI Vera Stanhope.

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

Follow @crimetimeprev

Vera series 3, ITV, with Brenda Blethyn, David Leon PREVIEW

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn) and DC KENNY LOCKHART (Jon Morrison). VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
Vera (Brenda Blethyn) and DC Lockhart (Jon Morrison). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★

ITV: starts Sunday, 25 August, 9pm

Story: DCI Vera Stanhope investigates the brutal murder of young physiotherapist, Lizzie Faulkner, gunned down at a luxury country retreat. For DS Joe Ashworth, the case brings him face to face with a part of his past he’d rather forget.

BRENDA BLETHYN dons her Paddington Bear outfit to take us on another lovely tour of Northumberland. Of course, as she is playing Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, the sights include an unfortunate young woman who’s been blasted with a shotgun.

Initially, it seems there won’t be much traipsing around with Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth asking where everyone was on Saturday night because they have nabbed a scowling local who was in the field with a shotgun on that very night. Bingo!

Except that this is a 90-minute episode, so Robert Doran probably really was shooting badgers at the time, as he claims. Then, after a second murder is committed when Corinne Franks is run down by a fleeing car, it seems blindingly obvious that angry local Justin Bishop is their man. After all, Corinne

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn), DC KENNY LOCKHART (Jon Morrison) and ROBERT DORAN (Richard Riddell).VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
Vera at Robert Doran’s remote cottage

had killed his wife in a road accident.

Vera and Joe

But, alas… well, I won’t give more of the plot away. Let’s just say we all know how these procedurals work. Ever since Agatha Christie minted the formula back in the 1920s, it’s a given that whoever appears clearly guilty turns out to be resoundingly innocent, and whoever appears to be happily married is an adulterer etc etc.

Despite Vera following the whodunit conventions, it does have a bit more going for it. The writers (Paul Rutman, Gaby Chiappe) do flesh out Vera and Joe a little, so that we see a bit of occasional needle in their quasi mother-and-surrogate-son relationship.

We also see Joe’s marriage, and his wife’s near jealousy of Joe’s devotion to his job (in other words, Vera). There is also a subplot here about Joe having once mistakenly ensured that Doran was prosecuted and jailed for a crime in which he had actually acted in self-defence.

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn). VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
What have we here, then? Vera at Doran’s place

Another star performance from Brenda Blethyn 

And we get glimpses of Vera’s loneliness, and consequent fondness for a drink. All these moments breathe some life into the principals, though they still remain shadows of the characters depicted in author Ann Cleeves‘ series of popular novels.

But as David Leon, who plays Joe, says, ‘The plot is very important to the audience but I think the characters are what they remember.’

Spot on, and Vera’s distinctiveness is of course down to Brenda Blethyn’s fine performances, with her Vera veering between mumsy tenderness and steely determination.

Nicholas Gleaves and Shaun Dingwall

ITV also lines up a good cast for the stories, so we have Nicholas Gleaves as the smooth business partner of Corinne and her husband, while Shaun Dingwall is the rather chippy Justin Bishop.

Vera also has a new officer on her team – DC Barry Kelman, played by Gareth Farr. And later on,
Saskia Reeves, Dean Andrews, Liam Cunningham and Jill Halfpenny will turn up in the remaining

VERA STANHOPE (Brenda Blethyn) and DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon). VERA SERIES 3  EPISODE 1  CASTLES IN THE AIR
Vera, Joe and the breathtaking scenery

three dramas.

And, of course, the other selling point of the show is the stunning scenery, the North East having breathtaking star quality throughout.

So, the new series of Vera presses all the buttons that its devotees will be hoping for, and it reaches a pretty decent, though not wildly surprising, denouement too.

Cast: Brenda Blethyn DCI Vera Stanhope, David Leon D.S. Joe Ashworth, Jon Morrison DC Kenny Lockhart, Riley Jones DC Mark Edwards, Paul Ritter Pathologist Billy Cartwright, Richard Riddell Robert Doran, Cassie Atkinson Tina Robson, Eva Quinn Lizzie Faulkner, Leah Brotherhead Maisie Jones, Nicholas Gleaves Tim Hopkins, Alex Childs Kirsty Hopkins, Shaun Dingwall Justin Bishop, Sonya Cassidy Celine, Mia Wyles Jessie Ashworth, Vinette Robinson
Corinne Franks, Alexander Arnold Sam Bishop

You can rent episodes of Vera online at ITV Player

Follow @crimetimeprev

Vera series 2 with Brenda Blethyn PREVIEW

Brenda Blethyn as Vera. Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½

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

Follow @crimetimeprev

Vera with Brenda Blethyn PREVIEW

Brenda Blethyn as Vera. Pics: (C) ITV Plc

Rating ★★★★

Vera: Hidden Depths ITV1, Sunday, 1 May, 8pm

Vera, the latest fictional detective to stride onto the TV crime scene, is a far more interesting figure than the familiar old-timers around at present, such as Lewis or Barnaby.

She’s the antithesis of glamour-pusses such as Kelly Reilly’s Travis in Above Suspicion, more of a Columbo-esque figure – shambling, short, easily underestimated. And she loves a drink.

DCI Vera Stanhope, as imagined by author Ann Cleeves, is hugely fat. As played by a terrific Brenda Blethyn here, she’s more podgy than massive, owing to the many layers of cardies she’s got on.

Vera’s deputy, Joe Ashworth, is played by David Leon

DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon)

She is also on her own. No children, lives alone. We first meet her in this opener, Hidden Depths, as she cajoles her deputy, DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon), into casting her father’s ashes into the sea for her. At the launch for this new series, Brenda Blethyn said she didn’t think Vera was lonely, but that she just didn’t mind her own company. Which is really another way of saying she’s lonely.

Vera is certainly more obsessive than Joe, who is effectively her surrogate son. But Joe has a life of his own with a wife and kids, so though Vera feels close to him, she won’t let on.

Her opening case involves a teenage boy, Luke, who is found dead by his mother, Julie (Gina McKee), when she returns home from a night out. The lad has been left at the family home in a bath tube filled with water and decorated with flowers. His elder sister, Laura (Gabrielle Ross) was asleep in the house during the crime.

Spectacular Northumberland setting

Julie (Gina McKee)

‘Like some poncey installation at the Baltic,’ is Vera’s caustic assessment of the killer’s arrangement.

The Baltic art centre, of course, pinpoints the North East setting, which is beautifully photographed to make a wild and spectacular backdrop to this mystery.

A second body is found, that of beautiful young teacher Lily (Samantha Neale), is then found in a rock pool of water on an isolated beach, again strewn with flowers. Vera starts probing the friendships and infidelities in the circle of academic Peter Calvert (Murray Head). But when another potential victim then goes missing too, she and Joe are in a desperate chase to locate the serial killer.

Wunmi Mosaku as DC Holly Lawson
This series has been lavishly produced and directed beautifully. With some decent actors to feature in the remaining three films, including Daniela Nardini and Hugo Speer, and regulars such as David Leon and Wunmi Mosaku as DC Holly Lawson, these mysteries certainly stand out from the crowd.

DC Holly Lawson (Wunmi Mosaku)

As for Vera, Brenda Blethyn offers this insight –  ‘A sense of justice drives Vera, and also a sense of worthiness. She grew up with her father and he never had any time for her at all. She’s finding a sense of self worth and is always having to prove herself – it’s part of her psyche to earn her place on the earth.

Vera’s different as she’s a woman in a man’s job and is doing it very well. And she’s not a sex symbol – usually when you see a female detective, she’s a pin-up. Vera evidently is not and I find that refreshing.’  

For a fine actor such as Brenda Blethyn, the slightly melancholy Vera is a part that should win her a big following.

%d bloggers like this: