xml:space="preserve">

No movie or TV show in recent weeks gave me more pleasure than the DVD box set of the complete "Prime Suspect," released one week ago by Acorn Media. Over the course of 15 years and seven mini-series (of varying forms and lengths), Helen Mirren, as London's Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison, never stopped expanding and enriching her character with bristling intelligence and alertness.

She can now be seen whole, as an epic heroine. She unites instinct and intelligence, vulnerability and iron will, humor and obsession, as she solves crimes and attacks the prejudices of a male-dominated bureaucracy.

Advertisement

You're enthralled as Tennison responds to ever-changing and volatile workplaces and cityscapes from 1991-2006, as well as to the ravages of workaholism, alcoholism, and regret. Mirren has said Tennison is the one character that she never had to pre-think at all. Watching the "Prime Suspects" series from beginning to end, you see her bring the role the kind of mesmerizing complexity that comes when an actor fuses totally with a part.

My particular pleasures this time around came from watching Mirren's Tennison at the top of her game and at the end of it, a dozen years apart. In "The Lost Child," one of the three roughly hundred-minute movies that made up Season 4 (in 1994), Tennison uses every ounce of her authority to maintain control of her detectives as they investigate a baby-napping. When the case goes out of control anyway, she must use her hard-hitting empathy to make things right.

In "Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act" (2006), another film about a missing girl, Mirren pulls off a resolutely unsentimental goobye to all that as she confronts her father's (and her own) mortality, her alcoholic blackouts, and the gap between her childhood dreams and her adult life. One reason Mirren is such a great actress is that she's a phenomenal team player. In "The Final Act," her scenes with Frank Finlay (as her dad) and Tom Bell (as an ex-colleague) are heartbreaking duets.

As Michael Sheen, her costar in "The Queen," once told me, Mirren "has real courage and complete control. Some actors have this recklessness, this risk-taking, but they don't have discipline." Mirren, he said, had "all these things together -- intuition, courage, risk-taking and discipline."

Were you sad to see "Prime Suspect" end? Does a show like "The Closer" even come close to replacing it? And have you followed Mirren in the movies? As remarkable as she was in "The Queen," I thought she was even more extraordinary as Tolstoy's wife in "The Last Station" (with Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy).

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement