The Bletchley Circle
|The Bletchley Circle|
|Written by||Guy Burt|
|Directed by||Andy De Emmony
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||2|
|No. of episodes||7 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||Simon Heath|
|Running time||45 minutes|
|Production company(s)||World Productions|
|Original release||6 September 2012– 27 January 2014|
The Bletchley Circle is a television mystery drama miniseries, set in 1952–53, about four women who used to work as codebreakers at Bletchley Park. Dissatisfied with the officials' failure to investigate complex crimes, the women join to investigate for themselves.
The first series of the miniseries, produced for ITV, was originally shown in the UK in 2012 and premiered in the U.S. in April 2013, on PBS. A second series was broadcast on ITV in January 2014 and on PBS in April 2014. Both series were later aired by Australia's ABC TV.
Susan Gray, Millie, Lucy, and Jean work together at a secret facility at Bletchley to decipher German military codes for the British military, during World War II. After a brief introduction of the four women at Bletchley during the war, the series begins in 1952, seven years after the war's end, when Susan, Millie, Lucy, and Jean have returned to their ordinary lives. As the story begins, Susan learns about a series of murders that has occurred in the London area and begins to recognize patterns connecting the killings. This inspires her to return to her codebreaking past, and she reaches out first to Millie, and then to Lucy and Jean, after unsuccessfully trying to convince the police to follow up her theory about the crimes.
As they all signed orders of secrecy about their work during the war, the two married women (Susan and Lucy), disguise their activities from their husbands as a book club. Failing to secure police involvement, they move from codebreaking and investigation into the realm of field work, with dangerous consequences on several occasions. Scenes of domestic tranquility are contrasted with scenes of the killer stalking and torturing his victims. While initially skeptical about becoming involved, Millie, Jean, and Lucy are convinced to help Susan once they realize the lives of many women are on the line.
The series contrasts the conventional but very different lives of the four women and the sense of usefulness they felt while codebreaking during the war. In the Series 1 finale, the women are forced to confront the man they suspect to be the killer.
Cast and characters
- Anna Maxwell Martin as Susan Gray
- After her service during the war, Susan Gray begins life as a homemaker and the mother of two young children after marrying Timothy Gray and becoming pregnant. Others in the circle are drawn into the investigation when Susan contacts Millie, after her suspicions first emerge and she is unable to convince the police to investigate the patterns she identifies in a spate of serial killings. Susan's character is troubled by the mundanity of her current life, especially as she remembers the satisfaction she felt doing codebreaking work during the war and her intention to travel the world.
- Rachael Stirling as Millie
- Millie is an independent-minded single woman who vows never to be ordinary. She and Susan lose touch after the war, when Susan decides to pursue a more conventional lifestyle. Millie travels the world and seeks adventure after the war, but eventually returns to London when she runs out of money. Millie makes the decision to bring Lucy and Jean into the investigation in order to help, and quits her job at a diner when she is sexually harassed.
- Sophie Rundle as Lucy
- Lucy is the youngest character in the circle and the most troubled by events surrounding the investigation. Her cousin served in North Africa during the war, and she is married to a violent, indolent man named Harry, who beats her. Lucy has an eidetic memory and specializes in recalling and processing data.
- Julie Graham as Jean McBrian
- Jean, the oldest character in the circle, worked as the supervisor of the younger women at Bletchley. Jean is working as a librarian after the war, and Susan seeks her out to help the team uncover secret information due to her many connections and her knowledge about how to get the right information.
- Mark Dexter as Timothy Gray
- Timothy Gray is a war veteran and the husband of Susan Gray, who is now employed at the Ministry of Transport. He is unaware of Susan's service as a codebreaker during the war; additionally, her character conceals the investigative activities of the circle from him, although this causes some strain on the relationship. He believes his talented wife is simply "very good at crossword puzzles" and did clerical work at the foreign office during the war. Timothy is growing ambitious and pursuing a promotion at the office, and fears that Susan's talking about her theories with the deputy commissioner will jeopardise his advancement, although he is promoted to Supervisor of Vehicle Licensing.
- Ed Birch as Harry
- Harry is Lucy's controlling husband, who beats her harshly on several occasions and constantly tracks her whereabouts. Harry beats Lucy severely when he suspects her of infidelity after she is attacked. Harry's character is suspicious and easily provoked to violence.
- Michael Gould as Deputy Commissioner Wainwright
- Also a war veteran, Commissioner Wainwright served with Timothy Gray during the war and now heads the local Metropolitan Police division. Commissioner Wainwright deduces Susan's secret role during the war and investigates some of her early theories, but he begins to politely resent Susan's interventions when he feels her theories are leading him in the wrong direction. He is eventually convinced of Susan's usefulness and apologises to her.
- Simon Sherlock as DCI Compton
- Inspector Compton is an incompetent police officer who fails to understand the significance of patterns in complex crimes and is dismissive of Susan's theories when assigned to speak with her, after Deputy Commissioner Wainwright becomes sceptical.
- Simon Williams as Cavendish
- Cavendish is a high-ranking operative who helps Susan by providing information from Malcolm Crowley's personnel file, once Susan suspects him as the serial killer. Cavendish is willing to break the rules for Susan, despite his reservations and official oath of secrecy, once he becomes convinced that her theory may be correct, and there may be lives at stake.
- Steven Robertson as Malcolm Crowley
- Malcolm Crowley is a disturbed veteran who worked with Cavendish on psychological warfare techniques during the war. He becomes deeply troubled after an incident involving a bombing and carries a deep obsession for a former colleague of his.
- Hattie Morahan as Alice Merren (series 2)
- Alice, a former Bletchley Park colleague, is awaiting trial for killing John Richards, her old flame and a Bletchley scientist . Jean, believing Alice is covering for someone, begins to reunite the circle to help establish her innocence.
- Faye Marsay as Lizzie Lancaster (series 2)
|#||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||UK Viewing Figures (millions)
Sourced by BARB; includes ITV1 HD and ITV1 +1
|1||"Cracking a Killer's Code, Part 1"||Andy De Emmony||Guy Burt||6 September 2012||5.81|
|Seven years after WWII, four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park have taken up mundane civilian lives. Susan, now a housewife, has collated data about a series of murders. She tells the police she knows where another body is, but they are unable to locate it and dismiss her. Susan turns to her friends Millie, Lucy, and Jean, former codebreaking colleagues at Bletchely Park. They work out where the next victim will be taken, find the body, then decide only they can find the killer.|
|2||"Cracking a Killer's Code, Part 2"||Andy De Emmony||Guy Burt||13 September 2012||5.73|
|The women collate information about the schedules of trains the victims had been on and use the results to identify suspects. Susan gives the police names of three potential perpetrators. Jean and Lucy discover seven similar murders, elsewhere, that the police in those jurisdictions consider solved, but the women believe innocent men have been framed and convicted. The police arrest a man whose name was given to them by Susan, even after she tells them she believes he was framed. The women devise a plan to trap the actual killer using Lucy as bait, but it backfires when she goes with the wrong man. Another suspect emerges from the Special Operations Executive, headed by Cavendish. Susan comes face to face with the killer at a closed mental hospital.|
|3||"Cracking a Killer's Code, Part 3"||Andy De Emmony||Guy Burt||20 September 2012||5.37|
|Susan returns with the police, but the killer has gone. She finds a coded message in her home with Cavendish's address, and going there finds him dead. A postcard on Cavendish's desk provides a clue; Susan, following the thread, walks alone into a trap set for her by the killer.|
This series is made up of two 2-part stories totalling four episodes.
|#||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||UK Viewing Figures (millions)
Sourced by BARB; includes ITV1 HD and ITV1 +1
|1||"Blood on Their Hands, Part 1"||Jamie Payne||Guy Burt||6 January 2014||5.46|
|Former Bletchley Park colleague Alice Merren (Hattie Morahan) is awaiting trial for the murder of a distinguished scientist (Paul McGann). Despite the overwhelming evidence of Alice's guilt, Jean is determined to prove Alice is innocent and reassembles the women to prove it. Their investigation reveals the misguided reason Alice is willing to hang for a crime she did not commit.|
|2||"Blood on Their Hands, Part 2"||Jamie Payne||Guy Burt||13 January 2014||4.98|
|The circle's investigation discovers three men with chemical burns in a truck crash on Salisbury plain, near the chemical warfare establishment at Porton Down. They suspect a high level cover-up involving the death of the scientist and the framing of Alice Merren, whereupon they themselves come under surveillance.|
|3||"Uncustomed Goods, Part 1"||Sarah Harding||Guy Burt||20 January 2014||4.63|
|Due to her notoriety, Alice cannot get a job, so Millie offers help. Millie is involved in the post-war black market. When she disappears, the women must search for her, because the police will not take them seriously. Millie is being held hostage by Soho Maltese gangsters until her shady business partner Jasper (Rob Jarvis) pays money he owes them. While in captivity, Millie discovers the gangsters are importing Eastern European girls to be sold into prostitution.|
|4||"Uncustomed Goods, Part 2"||Sarah Harding||Guy Burt||27 January 2014||4.66|
|Jasper is murdered, and corruption in the vice squad leads to inaction by the police. The women plot to catch the gang red-handed by buying contraband goods, a ruse that enables Lucy to memorise the gang's encrypted ledger. The women return to Bletchley Park, now a college where Alice's daughter is studying, to take a Typex machine from the derelict huts, but they instead find an old Enigma machine. However, they still have to find a way to inform Customs and Excise about the contraband, which includes the trafficked girls.|
Allusions to real events
The premise of the series is based on the women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II, who for the most part did not continue in intelligence work, and under the rules of the Official Secrets Act 1939 in the UK never shared the nature of their contributions to crucial aspects of the Allies' victory.
In the second series, one character refers to sarin gas as having been developed by the Germans during World War II, along with other such chemical weapons, then taken up by the former Allies. The UK did have an incident of a young man killed from experiments with the gas in 1953; in 2004, his inquest was reopened, and the cause of death was altered from death by misadventure to death by "application of a nerve agent in a non-therapeutic experiment".
Upon its U.S. premiere—which occurred in prime time following U.S. episodes of Call the Midwife and Mr Selfridge—Variety called The Bletchley Circle "smart, addictive and situated in a fascinating historical moment". In a review of the first series, The New York Times said the series finds "a clever, entertaining way to pay tribute to women who in their time were often overlooked and underestimated, and nevertheless found ways to never be ordinary".
- "ITV press release". ITV. Retrieved 7 January 2013.[permanent dead link]
- "TV Review: The Bletchley Circle". Variety. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- "PBS press release". PBS. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
- The Bletchley Circle. ABC TV. September 2014.
- Taylor, Francis. "Digital spy". Retrieved 17 April 2014.
- Emily Langer (17 November 2013). "Mavis Batey, Bletchley Park code breaker in World War II, dies at 92". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- "Bletchley Park History". Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- "WWII's Female Code-breakers in Bletchley Park". War History On Line. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- Ruth Styles (13 January 2014). "The REAL Bletchley Circle: Fascinating work of female codebreakers of World War II revealed". Mail Online. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- "Nerve gas death was 'unlawful'". BBC News Online. 15 November 2004.
- Stanley, Alessandra (19 April 2013). "Secret War Heroes, Hiding New Work From Husbands". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- "Did the writers get it right?". bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk. Discussion of the show's historical accuracy