This seven-disc set brings together the first five in the Granada Television Prime Suspect series which trace the rise and occasional sickening fall of policewoman Jane Tennison.
The first in the series, Prime Suspect, was made in 1991. The final instalment in this set dates from 1996. Prime Suspect 6 from 2003 is missing, although that most recent instalment was given solo DVD release in the UK in March 2004.
The Prime Suspect series is at times hard viewing. It tackles the problems faced by policewoman Jane Tennison as she strives to build a career in a hard-nosed mans' world.
But that's just one layer of these outstanding dramas. Another is that each individual episode in this 20-hour cycle is built around uncompromising descriptions of current social issues or horrors of our age - paedophilia and child-porn, child abduction, drug addiction, serial killing...
And this is no feminist tract extolling the virtues of Jane Tennison as she battles entrenched prejudice and received macho-dogma. The prejudice and male-chauvinism is there, but also on show are Jane's own very human flaws. It's no accident that, as she claws her way up the ladder from Detective Chief Inspector to Superintendent, she is, subtly, more of a bitch to other women on the force than she is to the men around her.
She is highly-strung to the point of obsessed neuroticism. Selfish, unable to have normal relationships - her emotional life is a series of one-night stands. In fact, she exhibits most of the same flaws which would be shown by male colleagues working in such a grinding, emotion-cauterising world.
The series was devised by British nitty-gritty writer Linda La Plante. Although La Plante was involved only in the first three instalments, a consistent sense of characterisation and development, and strong story-lines, was maintained throughout the entire series. I haven't seen the final instalment from 2003, but reports suggest it is in fact one of the strongest offerings of all.
DISC ONE, running for 201 minutes, brings us the quintessential Prime Suspect. Jane Tennison is appointed head of a homicide team, battles male hostility and seeks to nail her prime suspect of a brutal series of serial-killings.
DISC TWO bring us the complete Prime Suspect 2 (203 minutes). The body of a black teenage girl is found in a suburban back garden. As Tennison investigates, the murky world of underage sexual exploitation and pornography is laid bare.
DISC THREE is the complete 207-minute Prime Suspect 3. Jane has left Homicide to move to head Vice. This is probably the toughest episode and the most disturbing to watch, as she dives headlong into a paedophile ring which extends to the highest levels of her own profession.
DISC FOUR, 'The Lost Child' (101 minutes), is the first of the two dramas which made up Prime Suspect 4. Jane has just had to decide between having a child or continuing her obsessive career-quest. And now she has to contend with a possible abducted baby case, with a probable paedophiliac base.
DISC FIVE, 'Inner Circles' (102 minutes) is the second instalment of Prime Suspect 4. The comfortable upper-middle class members of a local golf-club clash with the denizens of the poorest housing-estate. Guess which strata is most corrupt...
DISC SIX brings us Part One of Prime Suspect 5, 'The Scent of Darkness' (101 minutes). This episode is a real surprise. It brings us back full-circle to Episode One, in which Jane tracked down a psychopathic serial-killer. Or had she? Is the real serial-killer still at large? In the closing scene, Jane finally gets the chance to return to some of her male colleagues what they've been dishing out to her throughout her career.
Finally, DISC SEVEN brings us the close of Prime Suspect 5, with 'Errors of Judgement' (200 minutes), a deliberately ambiguous title. Whose errors? Make up your own mind, as Jane Tennison tries to pin down her prime suspect in a tale of drugs, gangland murder and police expediency.
This is well-paced television drama which presents a fine balance of character development and interplay alongside nakedly brutal storylines. It's strong meat, but always totally absorbing.
Please note that these are the complete and uncensored instalments of Prime Suspect. The American (Region 1) DVD versions have had dialogue altered to remove a lot of the very realistic swearing which occurs during the show.
The full-screen transfers show some dirt and wear occasionally, usually near the start or during the titles. But overall the television image is fine, with no real impediment to viewing.
I noticed a couple of minor jumps during the final couple of instalments, as if a second or two of program had been physically removed (jerky editing maybe), but the effect was only transitory - there was nothing of significance lost.
All instalments are presented in full screen mode, except for Prime Suspect 3 which shows slight letterboxing. The website imdb.com states that this was filmed in full-frame (1.33:1) mode, so it appears for some unknown reason to have been cropped very slightly for release.
Although each instalment carries a screen-mention that it's been recorded in Dolby Digital Surround, the soundtrack offered on DVD is in fact basic two-channel stereo. Still, it's exceptionally crisp, focusing, as it should, on bringing us every word of dialogue. The only time it fails in this is in the final instalment, 'Errors of Judgement', but that's a fault of the thick Midlands accents!
That final instalment also seems to have jumped up a few notches in terms of overall audio excellence. There's more use of stereo information, and while dialogue is still exceptionally clear, some of the ambience sounds of cafe settings and so forth are vibrantly conveyed.