Prime Suspect: Tennison, the long-awaited prequel to the brilliant, early 90s series, Prime Suspect, that starred Dame Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison and based on writer Lynda La Plante’s book, “Tennison”, premieres on PBS on this Sunday as part of the Masterpiece series. Prime Suspect: Tennison, stars Stefanie Martini as a young Jane Tennison and will showcase her early days on the force as she begins her career as a probationary police officer, revealing why she became such a complex and formidable character.
Tennison also stars Sam Reid and Blake Harrison as Jane’s superiors DCI Len Bradfield and DS Spencer Gibbs. As is usually the case in high-profile British police procedurals, there are always a few familiar faces among the supporting cast. Right off the bat on Sunday, viewers might recognize Nancy Carroll (Lady Felicia Montague in Father Brown) as the mother of a young prostitute and Alun Armstrong, longtime ‘old dog’ on NewTricks as career criminal Clifford Bentley, who passes the time planning a little family bank robbery from the inside. In addition, Ruth Sheen (Unforgotten, Inside No.9), Lex Shrapnel (Medici: Masters of Florence) and Jay Taylor (Promise) are cast as Clifford’s crime family members, Renee, John and David Bentley.
The original Prime Suspect series ran for seven series from the early 90s up until the 2006 conclusion, ‘The Final Act’, and saw Tennison become the first female Detective Chief Inspectors in the Metropolitan Police. Over the 15 episodes, Prime Suspect chalked up Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Miniseries and for Outstanding Actress for Mirren, along with Golden Globes, British BAFTA Awards and a Peabody Award.
In Prime Suspect: Tennison, we see WPC Jane Tennison as the naïve yet determined new recruit on the force as she begins her lifetime of solving crimes. Lacking in experience, but making up for it in enthusiasm, she is keen to get stuck in and prove herself on her first murder inquiry. Unlike her sister Pam, Jane is more interested in her career and solving the case rather than marriage and starting a family, much to her mother’s disapproval. The series is set in Hackney in a 1970s world where high-ranking police officers were notoriously chauvinistic, rules and regulations were often bent and when women police constables were being ‘uneasily integrated’ into the force.
Fans of British television should recognize Martini from her efforts in Sir Julian Fellowes’ Doctor Thorne where she starred opposite Tom Hollander, Rebecca Front and Ian McShane. Somewhat ironically, Martini got her prequel feet wet with a small role alongside Shaun Evans on ITV’s Inspector Morse highly successful prequel, Endeavour. In fact, Evans was among the first to reach out to Martini when she was first cast as the young Jane Tennison. “Shaun sent me an email when I got Prime Suspect just to say well done, which I thought was lovely because Endeavour was my first ever job and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and he was so generous and kind,” Martini told Radio Times.
In portraying a young Tennison, Martini has made it clear from the beginning that she is not out to be a young Helen Mirren but rather a young Jane Tennison. “I know where Jane Tennison ends up, but I’m not playing that Jane Tennison. The one I’m playing has no idea where she’s going to end up, so if I copy Helen Mirren’s performance, it just won’t work,” said Martini.
Prime Suspect: Tennison will premiere this Sunday at 10pET/9pCT on PBS Masterpiece.