Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection
Studio: Acorn Media Group
Rated: Not Rated
Prime Suspect 1 207 minutes
Prime Suspect 2 204 minutes
Prime Suspect 3 206 minutes
Prime Suspect 4 305 minutes
Prime Suspect 5 201 minutes
Prime Suspect 6 195 minutes
Prime Suspect 7 184 minutes
Prime Suspect 1-5 4:3 full screen
Prime Suspect 6-7 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Languages: English Dolby Digital 2.0 and English Dolby Digital Surround
Subtitles: English SDH
The Prime Suspect series, starring the incomparable Helen Mirren, is one of the finest police dramas ever to appear on television. It has won seven Emmys, eight BAFTAs, and a Peabody Award. Mirren's portrayal of Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison earned her six Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special and she went home with the Emmy twice. She was nominated for six BAFTA TV Awards and she was the winner three times. Three of Prime Suspect's Emmys were for Outstanding Miniseries. Mirren is ably supported throughout the series by many fine actors, among them Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson, David Thewlis, and Zoe Wanamaker.
DCI Jane Tennison is a veteran of Britain's Metropolitan Police who has long been a victim of the sexism of her male superiors. She is a deeply flawed individual. She drinks and smokes too much, her personal life is a mess, and she is haunted by the ugliness of her work. In the initial installment of Prime Suspect, for the first time in her career Tennison gets the opportunity to lead a murder investigation - this one involving a prostitute who was possibly done in by a serial killer. She runs into opposition from her colleagues when she turns up evidence of a cover-up within the police force.
Prime Suspect 2 opens with Tennison having won the grudging respect of the male-dominated police. However, she is tested when she is assigned to handle a murder case in the local African-Caribbean community. Her superiors try to quell allegations of racism within the force by having her work on the case with a black detective - but that detective also is her former lover.
Prime Suspect 3 finds Tennison transferred to the vice squad. The members of the squad are assigned the task of breaking up a pedophile ring, but they are thwarted when the objects of the operation are tipped off by a leak. The stakes are raised when the body of a young boy is discovered in the charred apartment of a transsexual. Tennison brings her expertise in murder cases to bear and she soon finds herself involved in the dark world of child prostitution and corruption.
Prime Suspect 4 is actually three separate stories. The Lost Child involves a toddler who is kidnapped by someone who assaulted the child's mother and stole her car. The investigation leads to a convicted pedophile, but a harrowing hostage situation ensues. Inner Circle is the story of an apparent accidental kinky suicide, but Tennison's investigation leads her to believe that the man was murdered. She encounters resistance from members of the local community who appear to be hiding something. The Scent of Darkness harkens back to Tennison's breakthrough case from Prime Suspect 1. Prostitutes begin to be murdered in exactly the same fashion as the detective encountered in the earlier case. Is it possible that the wrong person was convicted and the serial killer is still at large?
In Prime Suspect 5 (also known as "Errors of Judgement"), Tennison has worn out her welcome at her London station and she is transferred to Manchester, in North West England. She has no friends at her new station, and things do not improve for her when she is thrust into the case of a murdered drug dealer. The evidence points to a local mobster known as "The Street," who has been allowed to operate in the area with relative impunity for years. When Tennison decides to take him on, she discovers that there are forces within the Manchester station who do not want "The Street" to be investigated.
Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness finds Tennison back in London. She now supervises all murder investigations in the city, but when a young Bosnian refugee is tortured and murdered she decides to handle the case herself. Complications arise when her investigation leads to a Bosnian war criminal who was allowed to emigrate to England after he agreed to provide evidence against other war criminals.
Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act is, as the title suggests, the swan song for the series. Jane Tennison is now approaching the age of sixty, her father is dying, and her drinking has become excessive. As she approaches retirement, she takes on the case of a missing schoolgirl who is believed to have been killed. Tennison vows to bring the murderer to justice, and along the way she finds herself becoming emotionally attached to the missing girl's best friend.
Prime Suspect is a realistic, gritty, and often grim police drama which never disappoints. The series takes an unflinching look at the seedy worlds of prostitution, pedophilia, and drug abuse, and it never shies away from such controversial issues as racism and police corruption. The productions are first-rate and the acting of Helen Mirren is simply superlative. Anyone who enjoys crime dramas will want to view this series, because the genre has never had a more authentic portrayal on television.
But this is not the first DVD release of the series. Is this set an improvement over the prior versions of Prime Suspect? I have been able to make direct comparisons, and without a doubt this new box set is an improvement in several notable respects. One of the improvements relates to content, while the others are related to presentation. Until I saw the new set, I did not realize that the version of Prime Suspect 1 which we saw in the United States differed from the version shown in the United Kingdom. The earlier Anchor Bay version has a running time of 201 minutes (the box erroneously lists the running time as 230 minutes), but the Acorn Media version runs for 207 minutes. Several minutes of footage apparently were deemed inappropriate for American viewers by PBS, which aired it as part of its Masterpiece Theater series. One of the excised scenes involves the autopsy of the naked body of a murdered prostitute. The original airings of Prime Suspect were split into two parts, but Anchor Bay decided to combine them and then showed two sets of closing credits at the end. Acorn Media has restored the shows to the formats in which they aired in the U.K, so now each part has its own opening and closing credits. Prime Suspect 2 is a bit puzzling because the Acorn Media version is actually three minutes shorter than the Anchor Bay version. I have not had the patience required to determine exactly what is missing from the Acorn Media version, but I have to assume that it accurately represents how the show was aired in the U.K. The other difference is that the Anchor Bay releases were flippers. The Acorn Media discs are dual-layer.
When it came time to release Prime Suspect 3 on DVD, Anchor Bay was no longer involved. Prime Suspect 3 and the subsequent entries in the series, up to and including Prime Suspect 6, were released on DVD by HBO. The HBO release of Prime Suspect 3 is spread across two single-layer discs, while the Acorn Media version is on one dual-layer disc. The running times of both versions are identical. HBO released Prime Suspect 4 on one dual-layer disc and one single-layer disc, and that approach has been replicated by Acorn Media. Once again, there is no difference in running times. Prime Suspect 5 was released by HBO on two single-layer discs, while the Acorn Media version is on one dual-layer disc. The running times of both versions are the same.
There is a very significant difference between the two versions of Prime Suspect 6. There are serious issues with the HBO release. Almost the entire HBO version is shown full screen at 4:3, but the first chapter is stretched and distorted to fill a 16:9 screen. It reverts to 4:3 at the start of the second chapter. Happily, the Acorn Media version is anamorphic widescreen and is properly framed at 1.85:1. The HBO version is on two single-layer discs and the Acorn Media version is on one dual-layer disc.
Both versions of Prime Suspect 7 have been issued by Acorn Media. They are presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, and both are spread over two discs to allow room for a 50-minute behind-the-scenes featurette.
The bottom line is that the Acorn Media box set appears to accurately represent how this superb show was aired in the United Kingdom. Several scenes in Prime Suspect 1 were cut by PBS when the show aired in the United States, and those scenes have now been restored. In addition, Prime Suspect 6 can now been seen in anamorphic widescreen. Fans of the series may find these differences significant enough to justify a double dip.
The video quality of this DVD set is variable. To my eyes Prime Suspect 1 and Prime Suspect 2 look sharper than their Anchor Bay counterparts, although both are still a bit soft by today's standards. There is virtually no difference in video quality between the two versions of parts 3 through 5, which are acceptable but not outstanding. The Acorn Media version of Prime Suspect 6 is a vast improvement due to the fact that it is presented at 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The two versions of Prime Suspect 7 are identical and are excellent. Prime Suspect 6 and Prime Suspect 7 are noticeably sharper than the earlier shows in the series, but there also is gradual improvement from Prime Suspect 1-2 through Prime Suspect 5.
The Dolby Digital audio is adequate, pretty much what one would expect from a television series. Prime Suspect 1-3 are in Dolby Digital mono, while parts 4-7 are in Dolby surround (although there is little for the surround channels to do). Nothing here will tax anyone's sound system, but the audio is is clear and intelligible and there is no annoying distortion and no other significant audio anomalies.
The limited extras in this set have been carried over from the previous DVD releases. Prime Suspect 6 has a 23-minute cast and crew interview which includes Helen Mirren and writer Peter Berry. Prime Suspect 7 includes a 50-minute behind the scenes featurette, a photo gallery, and cast filmographies.
The other episodes in the series have no extras.
The nine discs are stored in seven standard DVD keep cases. The seven keep cases can be secured in the included cardboard slipcase. The entire set takes up a bit less shelf space than the prior releases, which totaled twelve discs.
The Final Analysis
Prime Suspect is one of the finest police dramas ever shown on television, and Acorn Media has done a fine job of restoring it to the way it was originally aired in the U.K. For those who do not own the earlier versions, there is no question but that the Acorn Media set is the preferred version. Those who already own the series will have to weigh whether the improvements noted in this review justify the expense of an upgrade. Acorn has not announced any plans to release them individually, although I have noted that each has its own UPC code.
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba HD-XA-2 DVD player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: September 7, 2010