Prime Suspect

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For the U.S. series, see Prime Suspect (U.S. TV series). For the police term, see prime suspect.
Prime Suspect
Prime Suspect titles.png
Prime Suspect title
Created by Lynda La Plante
Starring Helen Mirren
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 7
No. of episodes 15
Producer(s) Granada Television/ ITV Productions
WGBH Boston/Masterpiece Mystery
Running time 101–207 minutes
Distributor ITV Studios
Original channel ITV
Picture format 4:3 (1991–1992)
14:9 (1993-1996)
16:9 (2003–2006)
Original release 7 April 1991 – 22 October 2006

Prime Suspect is a British police procedural television drama series starring Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector (later Detective Superintendent) Jane Tennison, one of the first female Detective Chief Inspectors in Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service. Prime Suspect was produced by Granada Television for the ITV network between 7 April 1991 and 22 October 2006. Prime Suspect 4 through 7 were co-produced by WGBH Boston for its Masterpiece Mystery anthology series.

The teleplays for the first and third serials, along with the story for the second, were written by Lynda La Plante, who received an Edgar Award in 1993 from the Mystery Writers of America in the category of Best TV Feature or Miniseries for her work. The following year, Allan Cubitt's teleplay for Prime Suspect 2 brought the series a second Edgar (in the same category). Prime Suspect 3 was awarded a Peabody Award in 1993 for its realistic scenes and dialogue.[1]

Prime Suspect was voted 68th in the list of 100 Greatest British Television Programmes as compiled by a poll given by the British Film Institute, and in 2007 it was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME."[2] The series garnered multiple BAFTA Awards, Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and a Peabody Award.


The series focuses on a no-nonsense female Detective Chief Inspector (DCI), Jane Tennison (played by Helen Mirren), who is attached to the Metropolitan Police, initially at the fictional Southampton Row police station. It is set mostly in London and the outer areas, with series 5 being set in Manchester. In later series, she is promoted to Detective Superintendent and reassigned to rotating duties, beginning with the vice squad in Soho. The series shows how she survives and negotiates in a male-dominated profession determined to see her fail with the support of her boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Mike Kernan and loyal Sgt. Richard Haskons. As mentioned in the behind-the-scenes documentary that accompanies "The Final Act" DVD, Jackie Malton, who was one of only four female DCIs at the time this series began, acted as an advisor to the writers.

The first series features sexism in the workplace as a significant subplot and a barrier to the investigation. Sequels have tended to downplay this theme, relying on straight procedure or on other subplots, such as institutional racism in Prime Suspect 2 and paedophilia, child abuse, and prostitution in Prime Suspect 3, but continued to demonstrate the determination of male peers and the police upper echelon to see her fail. Tennison's difficulty in achieving a balance between her work and her life outside the job and her difficulty in maintaining stable relationships are a recurring theme within the series. Toward the end of Prime Suspect 3 she arranges to have her pregnancy terminated. As the series progresses, she increasingly relies upon alcohol to help her cope; this culminates in the final episode of the series in her attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, where she finally acknowledges and confronts her addiction.

Prime Suspect's format is multiple episodes. Each number (1, 2, 3, etc.) represents a case, which runs around 3½ hours (excluding commercials), usually aired in two parts or four parts. Prime Suspect 4 was an exception at slightly over 5 hours with three separate cases.

The first five series were produced at a steady pace of one roughly every eighteen months until Mirren left the role, supposedly to avoid typecasting (according to a PBS interview). She returned to the character after a seven-year gap.

The music score for the first five series was done by Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, who was nominated for a BAFTA for Prime Suspect series one.


The following are characters who have made more than one appearance in the series.

  • DCI/Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) Prime Suspect 1-7
  • DS Bill Otley (Tom Bell) Prime Suspect 1, 3 and 7
  • Supt/Detective Chief Superintendent Michael Kernan (John Benfield) Prime Suspect 1-4: The Scent of Darkness
  • DI Frank Burkin (Craig Fairbrass) Prime Suspect 1-2
  • DC Jones (Ian Fitzgibbon) Prime Suspect 1-2
  • DI Tony Muddyman (Jack Ellis) Prime Suspect 1, 2 and 4: The Lost Child
  • WPC Maureen Havers (Mossie Smith) Prime Suspect 1 and 4: The Lost Child
  • DC Lillie (Phillip Wright) Prime Suspect 1-3
  • DC Rosper (Andrew Tiernan) Prime Suspect 1-2
  • DC/DI Richard Haskons (Richard Hawley) Prime Suspect 1-4: The Scent of Darkness
  • DCI Thorndike (Stephen Boxer) Prime Suspect 2, 3 and 4: The Scent of Darkness
  • DI/Detective Chief Superintendent Larry Hall (Mark Strong) Prime Suspect 3 and 6
  • Commander Traynor (Stafford Gordon) Prime Suspect 2, 3 and 4: The Scent of Darkness
  • DS Booth (Thomas Craig) Prime Suspect 4: Inner Circles and 4: The Scent of Darkness
  • DS Alun Simms (Robert Pugh) Prime Suspect 6 and 7


Prime Suspect[edit]

Title Air date Length
Prime Suspect

Part 1: 7 April 1991, Part 2: 8 April 1991 (UK)[3]
1992 (US)

207 min.

DCI Jane Tennison (played by Mirren), assigned to the Southampton Row police station and repeatedly passed over for major cases, gets her first chance to lead a major murder investigation while confronting DS Bill Otley (Tom Bell) and other sexist officers on her squad who attempt to get her replaced. The case involves the rape-murder of a young woman. She eventually gets the suspect, George Marlow (John Bowe) and earns the respect of her team.

This case was reopened in Prime Suspect 4, Scent of Darkness, when similar murders occur while Marlow is in prison.

This series also features Tom Wilkinson, who plays Tennison's love interest, Zoë Wanamaker, who plays the common-law wife of the suspect, and Ralph Fiennes, who plays a victim's boyfriend in a minor role.

  • BAFTA TV Award: Best TV Actress, Helen Mirren (co-star Zoe Wanamaker was also nominated in this category.)
  • BAFTA TV Award: Best Drama Serial, Christopher Menaul, Lynda La Plante, Don Leaver
  • BAFTA TV Award: Best Film or Video Editor, Edward Mansell
  • BAFTA TV Award: Best Film or Video Photography, Ken Morgan

Prime Suspect 2[edit]

Title Air date Length
Prime Suspect 2

Part 1: 15 December 1992, Part 2: 16 December 1992 (UK)
1993 (US)

203 min.

When a body is found in the backyard of a home in an Afro-Caribbean neighborhood of London, DCI Tennison has to tread carefully in her investigation because of the racial tension surrounding unsolved crimes in the region.

Also set at Southampton Row, this series features the same investigative team that appeared in the first series, with the addition of Colin Salmon as D.S. Bob Oswald, an ambitious black officer with whom Tennison has an affair; when the affair is disclosed in the media, it threatens Tennison's position.

  • BAFTA TV Award: Best TV Actress, Helen Mirren
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Miniseries, Sally Head, Paul Marcus
  • Emmy Award nomination: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special, Helen Mirren

Prime Suspect 3[edit]

Title Air date Length
Prime Suspect 3

Part 1: 19 December 1993, Part 2: 20 December 1993 (UK)
1994 (US)

207 min.

Now working in the vice squad targeting Soho, DCI Tennison's investigation takes her into a child prostitution and pornography ring following the death of a rent boy.

Tom Bell, who played Tennison's adversary Sgt. Bill Otley in the first series, returns to the series. Also starring David Thewlis, Ciarán Hinds, Peter Capaldi, Mark Strong, James Frain, Kelly Hunter and Jonny Lee Miller.

  • BAFTA TV Award: Best TV Actress, Helen Mirren
  • BAFTA TV Award: Best Drama Serial, Paul Marcus, David Drury, Lynda La Plante
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Miniseries, Sally Head, Paul Marcus
  • Lynda La Plante's teleplay was nominated for an Emmy Award, as was Helen Mirren, in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special.

Prime Suspect 4[edit]

Title Air date Length
Prime Suspect 4: The Lost Child

30 April 1995 (UK)
1996 (US)

102 min.
Prime Suspect 4: Inner Circles

7 May 1995 (UK)
1996 (US)

102 min.
Prime Suspect 4: The Scent of Darkness

15 May 1995 (UK)
1996 (US)

102 min.

Prime Suspect 4 was the only split series, divided into three separate stories. This series also promotes Tennison to Detective Superintendent.

The Lost Child: A child's death points to a convicted child molester, who has completed his prison sentence and lives with a woman and her two young daughters, keeping his dark past a secret from them. However, the man's counsellor believes that he would not have done it because of his preference in victims. This episode introduces Dr. Schofield (Stuart Wilson). Also starring Beatie Edney, Robert Glenister and Lesley Sharp.

Inner Circles: Tennison uncovers a possible political scandal when she investigates the murder of a country club manager. Also starring Kelly Reilly.

The Scent of Darkness: A series of murders resembling those by George Marlow, investigated in the original Prime Suspect, have encouraged Tennison's subordinates to reopen the case, given that Marlow is stuck in prison when the new crimes took place.

Tennison is reluctant, however, as she is sure Marlow is guilty. In the end she is vindicated when a prison guard who knows Marlow confesses to the crimes. Dr. Schofield returns for this episode as Tennison's love interest.

Also starring Stuart Wilson, Christopher Fulford, David Ryall, Marc Warren, Joyce Redman replacing Maxine Audley (who died in 1992) as Mrs. Marlow and Tim Woodward replacing John Bowe as serial killer George Marlow.

  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Lead Actress - Miniseries, Helen Mirren (for The Scent of Darkness episode. This was Mirren's first Emmy win ever.)

Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement[edit]

Title Air date Length
Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgement

Part 1: 20 October 1996, Part 2: 21 October 1996 (UK)
1997 (US)

200 min.

Following an intemperate act at the end of the previous series, Tennison is assigned to Manchester where she investigates the murder of a drug dealer she believes was committed by a local gang leader and folk hero known as "The Street" (Steven Mackintosh). Also starring David O'Hara and Marsha Thomason. Written by Guy Andrews. Directed by Philip Davis, an actor best known for his work in the films of Mike Leigh.

  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Miniseries, Gub Neal, Rebecca Eaton, Lynn Horsford, producers.
  • Helen Mirren nominated for Emmy and BAFTA awards.

Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness[edit]

# Air date Length Ratings
Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness

Part 1: 9 November 2003, Part 2: 10 November 2003 (UK)
2004 (US)

200 min. Part 1: 10.50m, Part 2: 9.88m

The series returns after a seven-year hiatus. Now returned to London, and somewhat stagnant in her career, Det. Supt. Tennison, under pressure to retire, investigates the murder of a Bosnian refugee while she copes with "modern" policing, including a supervisor who was once an officer junior to her. As she ends up digging into the past war crimes of recent immigrants, she is reunited with a war photographer with whom she was once involved (Liam Cunningham). It also relocates the story back to London after being set in Manchester in series 5. Also starring Ben Miles, Clare Holman, Mark Strong, Frank Finlay, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Phoebe Nicholls, Valentine Pelka, and Oleg Menshikov. Directed by Tom Hooper.

  • Nominated for four BAFTA awards, including Best Drama Serial and Best Actress (Helen Mirren), but did not win any awards.
  • Nominated for three Emmy awards, including Outstanding Miniseries and Best Actress (Helen Mirren), but did not win any awards.

Prime Suspect: The Final Act[edit]

# Air date Length Ratings
Prime Suspect: The Final Act

Part 1: 15 October 2006, Part 2: 22 October 2006 (UK)
Part 1: 12 November 2006, Part 2: 19 November 2006 (US)

200 min. Part 1: 7.90m, Part 2: 8.51m

While dealing with her alcoholism and the death of her father (Frank Finlay) Tennison solves the case of a murdered teenage girl before retiring.

It also starred Gary Lewis, Stephen Tompkinson, Laura Greenwood, and Tom Bell, reprising his role as Bill Otley from the original series.

  • BAFTA TV Award: Best Original TV Music, Nicholas Hooper
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Lead Actress - Miniseries or Movie Helen Mirren
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Writing - Miniseries or Movie
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Directing - Miniseries or Movie


In summer of 2015, ITV announced plans for a six part prequel, Tennison, to be released in 2016, the 25th anniversary of Prime Suspect. The screenplay is written by Lynda La Plante, writer of the original series, and will tell the story of a 22 year old Jane Tennison as a young officer investigating her first murder case. The role of Tennison is not yet cast. [4]

Effect on other series[edit]

Many observers have viewed Prime Suspect as the inspiration for female characters in American TV series, particularly noting strong similarities between this series in general—and the character of Jane Tennison in particular—and the later American series The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick in the role of Deputy Chief of Police Brenda Leigh Johnson. Critics noted the similarities between the series in a stronger way during the first seasons of The Closer, with one 2006 article in USA Today calling The Closer "an unofficial Americanization" of the British series,[5] and a later reviewer noting that, "When The Closer was first shown, critics were quick to compare it to Prime Suspect...[and] there's something in that...."[6]

In interviews, Sedgwick has acknowledged that the show owes "a debt" to the British crime drama, and that her admiration for that show and for Mirren were factors that first interested her in the role.[7] According to Sedgwick, Prime Suspect was one of the shows that "paved the way" for The Closer,[8] and her manager got her interested in the series by saying that it was "a little bit like Prime Suspect."[9][10] Sedgwick is quoted as saying that the Tennison character did become her inspiration in some ways for her portrayal of Brenda Leigh Johnson.[11]

Reviewers in American papers, including the Christian Science Monitor, have noted that The Closer, while not a direct remake of the British series, "owes" much to it,[12] or that it "echoes many of the elements" of it.[13] One The New York Times article refers to The Closer as a "direct descendant" of Prime Suspect, although it is less hard-hitting than the original:

"There is one show, however, that is a direct descendant, however different its tone might be: The Closer, on which Kyra Sedgwick’s Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson obsesses over her cases, tramples feelings and battles the old-boy network. Her vice, however, is candy; no booze or one-night stands. If you want the hard stuff, you need to head back to Prime Suspect."[14]

Other reviewers have also made the point that the differences between the Tennison and Johnson characters are as important as their similarities:

But then there’s the locker-room pissiness of her [Johnson's] all-male department, which she navigates like an estrogen version of Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison. (That’s not a running gag error, either: Sedgwick plays Johnson as if her toughness, intelligence and wit blossomed naturally from her Southern femininity, whereas Helen Mirren plays the dogged Tennison as if womanhood were a liability.)[15]

NBC picked up an American adaptation of the British series for the 2011–2012 season.[16]


In 1997 a short spoof episode Prime Cracker was produced for the BBC's biennial Red Nose Day charity telethon in aid of Comic Relief. A crossover with ITV stablemate crime drama Cracker, the spoof starred Mirren and Cracker lead Robbie Coltrane as their characters from the respective series, sending up the perceived ultra-seriousness of both shows.

Dead Ringers featured a parody with Queen Elizabeth II in the lead role (as a reaction to Helen Mirren's portrayal of her in The Queen).

Home media[edit]

On 1 October 2013, Netflix made the Series 1-6 available online for streaming.[17] On 27 August 2013, Acorn Media will release the entire series in a seven-disc Blu-ray Disc set. Each disc will contain the individual series, and bonus material will include a 50-minute behind-the-scenes special, a 23-minute Series 6 behind-the-scenes featurette, a photo gallery and cast filmographies. The DVD format of the series was released in 2010.[18]


  1. ^ Peabody Awards Archives
  2. ^ Poniewozik, James (6 September 2007). "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time ( Retrieved 4 March 2010. 
  3. ^ "PRIME SUSPECT - The Museum of Broadcast Communications". Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  4. ^ "Prime Suspect prequel sees return of Jane Tennison on ITV". THe Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  5. ^ Bianco, Robert (12 June 2006). "Call 911 for TNT's 'Saved'; 'Closer' still beats strong". USA Today. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  6. ^ Bernhard, Brendan (19 June 2007). "Who Needs David Caruso?". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  7. ^ Boedeker, Hal (25 July 2007). "Kyra Sedgwick: The Closer owes a debt to Prime Suspect, but don't look for 'my idol' Helen Mirren on the show". Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Ulaby, Neda (12 July 2010). "Power Player: Kyra Sedgwick Returns In The Closer". NPR Morning Edition. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  9. ^ Poniewozik, James (26 July 2007). "Antiheroine Chic". Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  10. ^ Taped interview with Kyra Sedgwick, along with other cast members and creators of The Closer,[dead link]
  11. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (10 July 2006). "The Closer‍ '​s Kyra Sedgwick, a Study in Nuance". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  12. ^ Goodale, Gloria (12 July 2010). "The Closer opened doors for women – and for basic cable". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  13. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (10 November 2006). "Swan Song for a Tough Old Bird". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  14. ^ Hale, Mike (3 September 2010). "A Complete Look at a Complex Character". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-17. 
  15. ^ Abele, Robert (23 June 2005). "Wounded Souls". Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  16. ^ Seidman, Robert (11 May 2011). "Updated: NBC Picks Up 'Smash,' 'Prime Suspects' and Two More Sitcoms to Series". TV By the Numbers. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  17. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (1 October 2013). "What’s New on Netflix Streaming This Month: October 2013". Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  18. ^ Lambert, David (6 June 2013). "Prime Suspect - Blu-ray Disc Release of the 'Complete Collection' Starring Helen Mirren". Retrieved 19 June 2013. 

External links[edit]