Prime Suspect

For the U.S. series, see Prime Suspect (U.S. TV series). For the police term, see Prime suspect.
Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect title
Created by Lynda La Plante
Starring Helen Mirren
Composer(s) Stephen Warbeck
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 7
No. of episodes 15 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Granada Television/ ITV Productions
WGBH Boston/Masterpiece Mystery
Running time 101–207 minutes
Distributor ITV Studios
Original network ITV
Picture format 4:3 (1991–1992)
14:9 (1993–1996)
16:9 (2003–2006)
Audio format Stereo
Original release 7 April 1991 (1991-04-07) – 22 October 2006 (2006-10-22)

Prime Suspect is a British police procedural television drama series. It stars Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, one of the first female Detective Chief Inspectors in Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service, as she rises to rank of Detective Superintendent whilst confronting the institutionalised sexism that exists within her job.


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. 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. In later series, Tennison is reassigned to rotating duties, including a Vice Squad in Soho, and a Gang squad in Manchester. She is promoted to Detective Superintendent shortly thereafter.

Concept and development


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.


It is set mostly in London and the outer areas, with series 5 being set in Manchester.


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. 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 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 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.


Main cast

Actor Character Occupation Cases
1 2 3 4.1 4.2 4.3 5 6 7
Helen Mirren Jane Tennison Detective Chief Inspector / Detective Superintendent Main
Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, a Detective Chief Inspector, and later a Detective Superintendent.

Tennison is the series protagonist, and the audience follow her career as she investigates cases in both London and Manchester. She is a skilled Detective, battling to prove herself in the male-dominated world of policing. Mirren described Tennison as "extremely directed, ambitious, talented and very uncompromising," she is, as a result, "deeply frustrated by her job".[3] After a fruitful career as a Senior Investigating Officer, Tennison retires from policing at the series end.

Supporting cast

The actors listed below are those who appeared in two or more cases. This list is not definitive, and as such, single-case appearances are not noted.
Actor Character Occupation Cases
1 2 3 4.1 4.2 4.3 5 6 7
John Benfield Michael Kernan Superintendent / Det. Ch. Supt. Main N/A
Tom Bell Bill Otley Detective Sergeant Main N/A Main N/A Main
Craig Fairbrass Frank Burkin Detective Inspector Main N/A
Jack Ellis Tony Muddyman Detective Inspector Main N/A Main N/A
Mossie Smith Maureen Havers W.P.C. Main N/A Main N/A
Richard Hawley Richard Haskons Detective Constable Main N/A
Ian Fitzgibbon Jones Detective Constable Main N/A
Phillip Wright Lillie Detective Constable Main N/A
Andrew Tiernan Rosper Detective Constable Main N/A
Stephen Boxer Thorndike Detective Chief Inspector N/A Main N/A Main N/A
Stafford Gordon Traynor Commander N/A Main N/A Main N/A
Mark Strong Larry Hall Detective Inspector / Det. Ch. Supt. N/A Main N/A Main N/A
Robert Pugh Alun Simms Detective Sergeant N/A Main


In summer of 2015, ITV announced plans for a six-part prequel, Tennison, to be released in 2017. The series is based on the book by Lynda La Plante and is scripted by Glen Laker.[4] It will tell the story of a 22 year old Jane Tennison as a young WPC officer investigating her first murder case.[5] The role of Tennison will be played by Stefanie Martini.[6]

Effect on other series

Many observers have viewed Prime Suspect as the inspiration for female characters in American TV series, particularly noting strong similarities between this series in generaland the character of Jane Tennison in particularand 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,[7] 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...."[8]

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.[9] According to Sedgwick, Prime Suspect was one of the shows that "paved the way" for The Closer,[10] and her manager got her interested in the series by saying that it was "a little bit like Prime Suspect."[11][12] Sedgwick is quoted as saying that the Tennison character did become her inspiration in some ways for her portrayal of Brenda Leigh Johnson.[13]

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,[14] or that it "echoes many of the elements" of it.[15] 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."[16]

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.)[17]

NBC picked up an American adaptation of the British series for the 2011–2012 season.[18]


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

On 1 October 2013, Netflix made the Series 1-6 available online for streaming.[19] On 27 August 2013, Acorn Media released the entire series in a seven-disc Blu-ray Disc set. Each disc contains the individual programme, upscaled to 720p HD and converted to 16:9 Widescreen. Bonus material includes 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.[20]


  1. Peabody Awards Archives
  2. Poniewozik, James (6 September 2007). "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
  3. "Masterpiece Theatre | Prime Suspect 1-5 | Prime Suspect 1". 2016-03-14. Retrieved 2016-10-29.
  4. "IMDB Page for Tennison".
  5. "Prime Suspect prequel sees return of Jane Tennison on ITV". THe Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  6. "Tennison cast list: Stefanie Martini to play the young Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect prequel". Radio Times. Radio Times. Retrieved 18 July 2016.
  7. Bianco, Robert (12 June 2006). "Call 911 for TNT's 'Saved'; 'Closer' still beats strong". USA Today. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  8. Bernhard, Brendan (19 June 2007). "Who Needs David Caruso?". The New York Sun. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  9. 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.
  10. Ulaby, Neda (12 July 2010). "Power Player: Kyra Sedgwick Returns In The Closer". NPR Morning Edition. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  11. Poniewozik, James (26 July 2007). "Antiheroine Chic". Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  12. Taped interview with Kyra Sedgwick, along with other cast members and creators of The Closer, Archived 17 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. Heffernan, Virginia (10 July 2006). "The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick, a Study in Nuance". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  14. Goodale, Gloria (12 July 2010). "The Closer opened doors for women – and for basic cable". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  15. Stanley, Alessandra (10 November 2006). "Swan Song for a Tough Old Bird". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  16. Hale, Mike (3 September 2010). "A Complete Look at a Complex Character". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  17. Abele, Robert (23 June 2005). "Wounded Souls". Retrieved 13 June 2014.
  18. 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.
  19. Cruz, Gilbert (1 October 2013). "What's New on Netflix Streaming This Month: October 2013". Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  20. Lambert, David (6 June 2013). "Prime Suspect - Blu-ray Disc Release of the 'Complete Collection' Starring Helen Mirren". Retrieved 19 June 2013.
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