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Vera: Set 1

Release Year:   2010
Studio:   Acorn Media
Format:   Colour; NTSC; Widescreen
Rated:   Not Rated
# of Discs:   4
Running Time:   355 m
DVD Release Date:   August 30, 2011

Creator:   Based on novels by Ann Cleeves
Actors:   Brenda Blethyn, David Leon, Wunmi Mosaku, Paul Ritter, Jon Morrison
DVD Features:   SDH Subtitles
E: Top Picks Rating:   6/10

Acorn Media Write-up: 
Debuting May 2011 to rave reviews in the U.K. and already commissioned for a second series, VERA debuts in the U.S. on DVD. Based on the award-winning novels by Ann Cleeves, the ITV series stars two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn (“Pride & Prejudice”, “Secrets & Lies”) as cantankerous but brilliant detective DCI Vera Stanhope. Imbuing the character with “a monumental intelligence” (“The Guardian”), Blethyn leads a stand-out cast in four feature-length mysteries that explore the untamed evil that lurks below the surface and exposes the demons that plague even those who dedicate their lives to good.

Filmed in the Northumberland villages of the original books, Vera follows a solitary, obsessed, cantankerous investigator—who happens to be pure genius at her job. Always proficient but occasionally cruel, DCI Vera Stanhope solves unthinkable crimes aided by her long-suffering team: right-hand man Sergeant Joe Ashworth (David Leon, “RocknRolla”), young DC Holly Lawson (Wunmi Mosaku, “32 Brinkburn Street”), and forensic pathologist Billy Cartwright (Paul Ritter, “The Eagle”). In the end, the solutions are rarely neat, and no one comes out blameless.
Guest stars include BAFTA winner Gina McKee (“The Forsyte Saga”, “Notting Hill”), Hugo Speer (“The Full Monty”), Kerry Fox (“Bright Star”), and John Lynch (“Sliding Doors”).

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 

Brenda Blethyn has enjoyed a long and distinguished career on stage and film. She is well-known for her creative partnership in the films of innovative director Mike Leigh. She has done Shakespeare. She knows her stuff.

Someone, somewhere, decided that Brenda Blethyn should star in her own television series.  Wonderful idea!

How about a cop show? Hmmm. With all due respect to Ms. Blethyn, how old is she? 65? Isn’t that about the age when John Nettles retired from “Midsomer Murders”?

Ann Cleves, whose prolific career includes her being the first recipient of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger, the richest prize in the world for crime writers, was the novelist of choice to provide the source material for an initial four-part series of feature length police dramas starring Brenda Blethyn, called VERA.

It doesn’t work. Period.

With the talents of the star and the source novelist, why? As with all criticism, this is just one person’s opinion, but here is why I believe VERA fails to deliver.

The lead actor’s age makes her unbelievable in the role. It’s physically impossible for her to be out in the field hunting down bad guys. The predominant atmosphere Vera creates on screen is “somebody get her a chair!” Huffing, puffing, half-crying – pity  the plod with a boss who can’t stand on her own.

The character of Vera is intensely unlikeable and there are times you just want to turn off the TV. Helen Mirren showed us in “Prime Suspect” that we don’t have to like the lead character to be intrigued by her. But Vera is 1 part intrigue to 3 parts irritation. Not a viable formula. She is abrasive, judgmental, emotional, petty, and dresses like a frumpy old bag lady. I’m not suggesting she should be a fashion plate, but she is a professional, not a curmudgeonly next-door-neighbour who has unexpectedly dropped in for tea and won’t leave.

Maybe I missed something, but the script writing isn’t very good, either. She is supposedly a drunk, but all the script does is show her sneaking slugs of booze. She never appears intoxicated and never experiences consequences. She is horrible to her team, yet they remain fiercely loyal. Her “brilliant mind” is conveyed by showing her sitting alone staring off into space, and suddenly coming up with an idea that has no clues to back it up. That’s not brilliant, that’s psychic – and an indication of lazy writing. Nothing about this lead character inspires confidence.

VERA’s saving grace is the cinematography. Every episode has at least one brilliantly composed shot of the bleak horizon or some such thing. But this does not a compelling police drama make.

And yet, she has been renewed for another season. Somebody’s obviously a fan, but frankly the pool of police dramas is just too rich to bother with VERA. Unless you’re such a passionate fan of the genre you simply must have all you can get (or you want to see gorgeous footage of Northumberland with annoying people in front of it), you might want to give her a pass.