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

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Broadchurch — great finish for the best new UK crime series

ITV's Broadchurch, starring Oskar McNamara as Danny
Oskar McNamara as Danny. Pics: ITV

Broadchurch revealed its secrets in the final episode last night and confirmed its position as the best new UK crime series since Sherlock. The Beeb, BSkyB, Channel 4 and ITV churn out dozens of murder dramas each year but none has generated the buzz that Broadchurch did.

Much of the watercooler chat was about whodunit, but Broadchurch was a much better show than those that are simply puzzles over a perpetrator’s identity, intriguing though that was. The bookies, and most of us in the audience, strongly suspected it was Joe, anyway.

Broadchurch worked so brilliantly because it learnt from the first series of The Killing and was a seering exploration of a crime and its painful fallout for a community – ambitions way above most TV crime fare. Central to the whole story was the Latimers and the heartbreak and confused loss they were suffering. Hats off to writer and creator Chris Chibnall (United, Law & Order: UK) for devising such a rich, compelling drama.

Olivia Colman, David Tennant in Broadchurch, ITV
Olivia Colman and David Tennant

Olivia Colman was superb throughout, but really went above the call of duty in portraying the nightmare that befell Ellie during the finale. David Tennant was very good – as usual – as Alec, the lead detective who was by turns irritating and vulnerable. And, for my money, Andrew Buchan also stood out at times as Danny’s dad, particularly early in the series in the scene when he had to identify his son’s body.

  • Daily Telegraph final episode review
  • Guardian final episode review
  • Independent final episode review

ITV wasted no time last night in announcing that Broadchurch will be back. Which will be interesting, seeing that Alec is being invalided out of the force and Ellie will have to leave town. The story is, of course, being kept under wraps, but will go into production next year. More than nine-million viewers have been watching, so another series is not a surprise.

My guess is series two could involve Sandbrook, Alec’s previous and disastrous case.

Anyway, final word to Chris Chibnall  – ‘The whole Broadchurch team has been delighted and properly gobsmacked by the response from ITV viewers. When I first talked to Peter Fincham and Laura Mackie, ITV’s Director of Drama about Broadchurch, I mentioned that if people liked it, there was another very different story we could tell afterwards. I’m really thrilled we’re going to tell that story too.’

Here’s the extra scene from Broadchurch that was posted on Facebook last night…

• In other news, ITV also announced yesterday that there will be a fourth series of Vera. Brenda Blethyn will this summer start filming four new 120-minute stories based on the character created by crime author Ann Cleeves.

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