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DVD Review: Prime Suspect: The Final Act

Who wouldn't want to be a cop? Look at all the great fringe benefits; long hours, high stress, low pay, little or no public or political appreciation, danger, and brutal on the personal life. That's not to mention the chance to see the worst that society has to offer in the way of what people do to each other: murder, rape, assault, robbery, and any and all combinations of the above.

Who wouldn't want to be a woman cop? Not only do you get the same package deal of benefits that your male colleagues have to deal with you get some lovely added bonuses. There's everyone's preconception of women in uniform to deal with, and of course resentment from fellow officers if you get promoted before they do ("It's only because she's a woman"). Not to mention if you so much as dare to act human and react to a brutal crime scene you'll never hear the end of it, ("See, women – can't take it when the going gets rough"). But worst of all is knowing that no matter how good you are promotions will always be limited because of the glass ceiling that "doesn't exist".

When police forces across North America were forced to change minimum height requirements for officers that had effectively prevented women, and other visible minorities, from obtaining membership in the club, there was lots of speculation from certain areas about whether women could make effective cops. Instead of wondering how women could have a positive influence on policing, all anybody was concerned with was whether they would be tough enough to stand up to the rigours of the job.
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Instead of being allowed to bring themselves to the job at hand, women were forced to try and be imitations of their male colleagues. It's as if gender held the secret for being a good cop, and if you didn't have your own set of testicles you'd better borrow some quick. Image then, how difficult it must have been for women when they first started having to give orders to men.

In the British television police drama Prime Suspect: The Final Act available on DVD from Acorn Media in early September 07, Detective Superintendent (DSI) Jane Tennison is on the verge of retirement after more then thirty years as a police officer in England. It's been one battle after another with the men who she has answered to and those she has supervised. Although she has at least played the game to a draw, it hasn't been without cost to her personally. Alienated from her family, an alcoholic, and single, she faces the prospect of a bleak retirement.

When a fourteen-year-old girl is reported missing, and her stabbed body is found on the heath, Tennison is determined to solve this last case before she retires. Complicating matters is the fact that her father is admitted to hospital and is discovered to have inoperable cancer and given little or no time to live.

As the case deepens and suspects are found and discarded Jane's drinking reaches the point where she is threatened with being removed from the case and pushed out the door early. It would be an ignoble ending to a distinguished career, and perhaps it's the thought of seeing it all go for nought that pushes her into attending Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time. Or perhaps it's the fact that she gets to see herself through the eyes of another for a change.

In the course of the investigation, she becomes friendly with the deceased girl's close friend April, and sees her reflection in the eyes of the younger woman. As the case winds itself down to its sordid and bitter conclusion Jane has begun the process of making peace with herself, and although retirement will be a long tough haul for her, she at least has something to work on, herself.

Long before she was famous for being a Calendar Girl or the Queen of England, Helen Mirren created the role of DSI Jane Tennison. Her performance throughout Prime Suspect has always been exemplary, but like all the best performers, she has held something back for the last hurrah.

There's a fine art to television acting involving subtlety and restraint. To be able to create a character as complex as DSI Jane Tennison, and then to bring her to life as completely as Mirren manages to do is an accomplishment that very few will ever be able to equal. In "The Final Act" we watch Mirren take Tennison to the very edge of the abyss of self destruction and draw herself back from the precipice before falling.

There are none of the histrionics that we would see from a lesser actor or production. No scenes of flying booze bottles or tearful confessions, instead we watch the character trying to act like nothing untoward is happening. However, that's not very easy to carry off when she suffers from a black out and forgets the call that notifies her about the girl going missing.

Everything about this show is brilliant though, not just Mirren's performance. The opening sequence of the girl's parents running through the streets to the house of their daughter's friend April, hopping to hear something positive, let's you know something horrible has happened. In some ways the image of two people pelting through the streets while all around proceeds normally reminded me of how people feel when someone dies and somehow the world acts like nothing horrible has happened.

That one scene captured those feelings of isolation and alienation far better than pages of dialogue could ever have described it. It's a perfect example of how to make use of the camera in television or film to communicate feelings and circumstance. For me that one shot sums up the standard of excellence that this production always strove to maintain.

Prime Suspect: The Final Act is the amazing conclusion to a spectacular television series, featuring superlative performances by all cast members, but especially Helen Mirren. The two-disc DVD set is a Widescreen edition with 5.1-surround, Dolby digital, sound. It also includes a fifty-minute, making of the series feature as a bonus. Don't worry if you've not seen any previous episodes, it won't matter. Brilliant television is brilliant television and you don't need to know more then that.

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