Wednesday, 14 October 2015

TV review: Vera, prod Elaine Collins (launched 2011)

I've been gradually forgiving Sunday night for not being Monday night for some time now. In fact, it has been hard to forgive the weekend by any means since the Early ABC TV News does not screen on weekends and I have to wait until 7pm to get my media fix for the evening. It's distracting and unfair. Why? I ask myself ... Oh, if only the station producers knew in their bones how much ordinary people in the community rely on the news to keep them sane, they'd screen the Early News every night of the week!

But getting back to Sunday nights on the TV, it's been a while now since I've been gradually accommodating my senses to Vera, a British crime drama that has been running since 2011, and I must admit to having become a fan. It has been a while since a crime drama caught my attention, and probably the TV event prior to this that did so was the regular screening of the Kurt Wallander series. Of course I loved the Lisbet Salander series of novels by Stieg Larsson and read them several times each. I think what I loved about Salander most as a character was her eccentricity, if you can forgive that epithet. She was strange and flighty, irrational and frustrating, but quite whole as an artistic concept.

In the case of Vera you also get someone who stands apart. In this case, just being a middle-aged woman makes Vera Stanhope stand out because people in this class are usually completely overlooked. It's something you get used to when you reach middle age: the fact that everyone younger than you utterly ignores you. For an overweight woman from a working class background - the accent apparently is Geordie, which I learn from doing an internet search is the local accent of people living in the northeast of England around the city of Newcastle - the cloak of invisibility must have nary a chink in it.

However there's something strange that happens with this copper. Unlike with male DCIs (detective chief inspectors), with Vera it's the small voice that you bend your ear to hear. You find yourself actively listening in anticipation of what she'll say next. And what comes out next is as likely to be some solid piece of homespun philosophy as a direct command to a subordinate. She has that effect on you, Vera does. You find yourself listening carefully to what she'll next produce from that smooth and weathered face of hers.

The powerful female is a rarity even today in the world of TV and Vera Stanhope occupies a prominent position in the echelons of leading female roles on the small screen. Her bustling, busy presence is also one that is full of compassion and canny understanding of human frailties and eccentricities. She takes nothing that is said to her at face value but will also never be seen shouting down at some dumb crim from a position of dominance across the interview table, even though one of dominance is the position she occupies in most scenes when she appears on the screen. Author Ann Cleeves, who wrote the novels the TV series is based on, was born in 1954, and Brenda Blethyn, who plays Vera in the TV series, was born in 1946. There is much that most people can take away from this TV series. For someone of my vintage its lessons can be considered to be even more timely than they would be for most other people because of the small size of the age gap.

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