In days gone by, the role of the middle-aged, hard-drinking, burned-out cop facing the abyss of retirement was solely the province of men. For better or worse, times have changed.
On consecutive Sundays, Nov. 12 and 19 (check local listings), PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" presents "Prime Suspect: The Final Act," the last installment of the Emmy Award-winning miniseries franchise starring Helen Mirren as London police detective Jane Tennison.
First seen on "Masterpiece Theatre" in 1991 and last seen in 2004, Tennison is now pushing 60, facing both the end of her career -- with little to look forward to in the aftermath -- and the imminent death of her father (Frank Finlay).
At the same time, her alcoholism has progressed to blackouts and now threatens her efforts to solve the disappearance of a teenage girl.
Tennison also has an unexpected encounter with her old police nemesis, former Sgt. Bill Ottley (Tom Bell), who has a surprising effect on her life.
The success of "Prime Suspect" hasn't exactly led to a flood of similar tough, gritty roles for mature women in crime drama, but Mirren doesn't worry about that.
"Part of me hopes there won't be another one like her," Mirren says, "and part of me thinks there should be, because it's good for us women. But you know, I've always said, don't worry about roles for women on television, and don't complain about there not being enough roles for women on television, in the theater, in movies, which there aren't.
"Worry and complain about there not being enough roles for women in life. Now, once you start getting women up there in real life, the drama will naturally follow."
Not surprising for a woman who has recently played Queens Elizabeth I and II, Mirren looks to real female leaders for inspiration -- including an American secretary of state and a British prime minister.
"It's extraordinary to have Condoleezza Rice out there," Mirren says. "A young black woman -- it's revolutionary. I don't agree with her politics, but that's irrelevant in this particular arena that we're talking about.
"For me, I always said that Mrs. Thatcher is a great role model for me, because -- nothing to do with her politics, I hated her politics -- but a little 4-year-old girl who doesn't understand politics, she goes, 'Who's that lady on television?' And her mama says, 'That's the prime minister of England.' So the girl goes, 'Oh, I see, a little girl can become prime minister.'
"Same with Condoleezza Rice."
As to whether the troubled Tennison is a good role model for working women, Mirren says, "No. I don't think good or bad is relevant. If it's true and real, it's relevant.
"I've never set Jane Tennison up as a role model in that sense. I just wanted her to be a fairly truthful interpretation of what that sort of life could maybe be."
Mirren won't rule out taking on another serial role, but she says, "Bit late in the day for me."
Reminded that conventional wisdom would have said that day ended long ago, Mirren laughs.
"Yes," she says, "and they were wrong, weren't they?"Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun