A hard-edged Jane Tennison made TV history; now she's young and wide-eyed


The original "Prime Suspect" mini-series was just what PBS needed -- tough, gritty, contemporary. Now, 25 years later, an excellent prequel shows the main character on her first case. In the U.S., that will run as 90-minute movies on three Sundays, starting June 25; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

At first, Jane
Tennison seemed to be in the wrong time and place.

The time was
1991-92. The place, PBS, was cozy; it was filled with “drawing-room,
Agatha Christie-type mysteries,” recalled Rebecca Eaton, the
long-time “Masterpiece” chief.

Now it was adding
Helen Mirren as Tennison, a new detective chief inspector. Her male
employees were bitter; her cases were dark and gritty. “We thought
we were going to be one and out,” Eaton said.

Instead, “Prime
Suspect” had seven mini-series (six two-part, one three-part); it
drew raves and a dozen awards, mostly from England. And a decade
later, it's back ... sort of.

“Tennison” is
set in 1973, when she was starting. “Jane Tennison in her 20s is
very different, ... because she is young and naive and fresh-faced,”
said Stefanie Martini, who plays her.

Unlike her
colleagues, she doesn't smoke and she only drinks reluctantly. That
will change.

“This incredibly
powerful woman, (whom) Jane Tennison evolves into, had to go through
a man's world,” said Sam Reid, who plays the senior detective she
works with on her first case.

Tennison is on new
turf – which Martini, 26, understands. “It's all pretty new for
me in the same way,” she said.

Fresh from the Royal
Academy of Dramatic Arts, Martini landed three splashy roles – the
lead in the “Doctor Thorne” mini-series, a masked princess in
“Emerald City” and now this.

Like Tennison,
Martini grew up middle-class; unlike her, that was in villages in
northern England. “I'm more similar to Mary Thorne,” she said,
“(with) a kind of simple upbringing.”

But she can relate –
a little -- to Tennison's passion. “She's more work-focused and
like a straight line,” Martini said. “I'm much more kind of
scattered.”

Now Tennison is
taking her on a straight line into TV history.

-- “Prime Suspect:
Tennison”

-- In the U.S,, will
run as 90-minute movies at 10 p.m. on three Sundays, starting June 25