Thursday, February 13, 2014

the bletchley circle

Thanks to a recommendation by my friend Chris, I decided to check out The Bletchley Circle, a British murder mystery series on Netflix. I was not disappointed. Series 1 had three episodes and centered on four friends, Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin, Death Comes to Pemberley, Philomena), Millie (Rachael Stirling, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Young Victoria), Lucy (Sophie Rundle, Great Expectations), and Jean (Julie Graham, Doc Martin) who worked together as codebreakers at Bletchley Park in WW2.

As the series begins, it is now 1952, and Susan is certain that a recent series of brutal murders of young women are linked — and that she and her friends, if they can uncover the pattern — can help solve the crimes and find the killer.

L-R: Lucy (Sophie Rundle), Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), Jean (Julie Graham), and Millie (Rachael Stirling)

The series has a dark, creepy undertone that is so common to British crime shows — and that they do so well. The killer in these murders is super-creepy, but his modus operandi also has ties to the hardships and the toll that the war took on everyone — a shadow that never quite fades. The Bletchley Circle highlights the frustrations of the four women, who now have had to resume more domestic or expected female roles after feeling more useful and being placed in more dangerous, and even exciting circumstances during wartime. Like Prime Suspect, which starred the amazing Helen Mirren, The Bletchley Circle gives viewers a unique view of women in a dark and violent crime drama.

The men are almost uniformly portrayed as dolts in the first series, but it is easy for us to forget how "sheltered" women were. Susan can only go the police with her theories and suspicions under the aegis of her reluctant-to-believe-her husband. Even with his begrudging entree she is pretty much dismissed out of hand. The portrayal of all the women's minds, working together to puzzle things out,  is a refreshing change from most dramas where such activities are portrayed as more masculine.

The pro-woman, anti-man stance may be a bit heavy-handed at times, but the episodes had real thrills and real dangers, and brought a little-known (to me) period, of 1950s post-war London, to life. A second series, which will consist of two two-part episodes, has been filmed and will return to PBS on March 27. Can't wait.


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