Having been a little underwhelming in recent weeks, this week’s Prime Suspect 1973 finale thankfully gives the show a good send-off.
We pick up where we left off, reprising last week’s explosive climax to the accompaniment of Tubular Bells; and where we might have anticipated drawn out scenes of bedside vigils, to the beep-beep accompaniment of the life support machine, in fact there is no malingering at all. The expanding fireball consumes one bank robber (a passing comment some weeks back identified him as a Bentley cousin, but he’s just hired muscle as far as the story is concerned) and when the dust has settled John Bentley is dead. So is DI Bradfield.
The remainder of the episode is focussed on tracking down the remaining Bentleys, father Clifford and son David. Along the way we learn the identity of Julie-Ann Collins’ murderer – namely John Bentley, who killed her because David had told her about the bank job. It’s a slightly odd step, in that by the time we learn the killer’s identity he’s already dead, but it does a good job of tying together the two strands of plot.
I was less than kind about the production team last week (apart from the effects department) so in the interests of balance it’s worth mentioning that the acting, not just this week but throughout, has been exemplary. Alun Armstrong as the senior Bentley has been more and more unpleasant as the series has progressed – this week caring less about his dead son John than his own skin, then shooting his other son and abandoning him to die. Yet, in his final prison scene, alone while all his fellow inmates welcome their visitors, he looks lost and bewildered and incredibly we almost feel sorry for him.
Mrs Bentley too ought to be mentioned in dispatches, Ruth Sheen has been superb in a thankless and unshowy part. Provoking both laughter and sympathy a few weeks back when nobody but nobody would try her home-made cake, this week she is insightful enough to (try and) help son David escape to a new life, and brave enough to stay behind when her husband does a runner.
I praised episode one for being a showcase for Stefanie Martini in the lead role of the young Jane Tennison. Sadly since then the script hasn’t always given her the chance to shine, but this week she’s back in the limelight.
Talking David Bentley into a confession, then trying to save his life, and in one particularly impressive scene she goes from being absolutely consumed with grief at Bradfield’s death, to picking herself up and carrying on – giving us perhaps the first sign of the harder Tennison of the 1990s.
So, not a perfect show. It’s been stylish in places, but ploddy and also-ran in others. Nevertheless, it would be nice to see more of the pre-Mirren Tennison, either later in the 1970s or during the 1980s. Fingers crossed for a second, improved, run next year.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 4 April 2017 on ITV.
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