Thursday, October 18, 2012

No one puts Helen Mirren in a binder..

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Shaking the schedule up a little this week. Sorry to say that despite our best efforts, Lynda LaPlante will not be here this week.

No fewer than two publicists have moved on from Harper Collins in the past sixty days (maybe more for all I know) and lord knows where Lynda's guest blog is! It may be floating in cyberspace. If it resurfaces we'll keep you posted. (Maybe we should hire a detective to find it...)

But that got me thinking about the original Prime Suspect series
starring Helen Mirren (who steals all of her style tips from our own silver siren, Rhys Bowen...)
I now own the entire series on DVD and have seen each numerous times.

Why did we all love Jane Tennison?

Was it just Helen Mirren's smart, tough, sexy portrayal? Did we identify with Jane Tennison's struggle to make it in a man's world - and, forgive me - break out of the "binder" that she was in? The "token woman who might be good enough to be palatable and not make too many waves" binder?
Was it her flaws?

And if the two or three people who actually watched the US version of Prime Suspect are out there and care to reveal themselves - what was up with the gal with the hat? (Not to be confused with the Mother With the Hat.) Was she anything remotely like Tennison?

In light of the unfortunate (old) V.I. Warshawski and (new)Stephanie Plum films, why is it so hard to create a film character as good as the print version?

One lucky commenter will win an advanced reader's copy of Lynda LaPlante's new Anna Travis mystery, Blood Line.


  1. The girl with the hat was nothing like Tennison, but I liked her very much and loved the show. (The reason it was cancelled, I'm sure). She was better than Tennison in one respect: She gave it back to those nasty men -- and women, too -- without being subtle about it. She got mad, she cried, she flailed a bit, and then she worked something out to turn it all around--like reminding her boyfriend's ex-wife that everybody's arrest record was accessible to cops and if the ex wanted to play hardball with the child, she'd play hardball, too. The two shows and the two women characters were NOTHING alike, but I enjoyed both.

  2. Oh Jack, I doubt they cancelled it ONLY because you liked it:)

    I adore Helen Mirren, but I love your post's title even more Ro!

  3. She isn't a detective, but I have a huge girl crush on Chummy, from Ask the Midwife. She's in a different kind of binder (a higher social class, with private income) so she has to struggle against biases from her peers. She's the opposite of Jane Tennison in that she's soft and warm, clumsy and vulnerable, and decidedly unsexy--but I think she's going to get the cute constable she ran over with her bicycle!

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  5. It's hard to translate because with a book it's one person in control but with movies and TV there are a million cooks in the kitchen who need to justify their job so they force their 2 cents though they lack creativity. The BBC seems to know you hire someone for their creativity you should listen to them. Or at least this is what I've heard.

  6. Although there are many films based on books that are well-done and seem to successfully translate from the written word to the screen, I think that, in the grander scheme of things, translating from print to film is incredibly difficult. After all, the author has the entirety of the book [or, in many cases, the series of books] to draw the character, a luxury the scriptwriter/filmmaker will obviously never have. Essentially, the filmmaker is taking one small snapshot of the character/plot from the entire body of writing and trying to make that small piece as fully-defined and “real” as the writer has done within the entire scope of the book/series. True, film is constrained and cannot realistically be expected to show the entire book, but I’m not at all sure the scriptwriters/filmmakers generally take time to read all of the book/series in order to really know the character/story they are attempting to bring to life on the screen. [And that does not even begin to address the scriptwriter’s/filmmaker’s propensity for taking the book and the character and “changing things” for their film, to put their own spin on the character/story . . . and therefore it seldom ends up being anything like the book/character we know and love.]

  7. Seems like the perfect place for me to admit to the "girl crush" I've had on Helen Mirren forEVAH.

  8. Good points, Joan and Jennifer. It seems especially hard to do with female characters. Usually they're too girly - although that can't be said for Lisbeth Salander!

  9. Kaye, do you remember her in Excalibur? She was a knockout.

  10. Well, I don't claim to have the 100% real answer, but in my opinion, it has more to do with how each reader views the characters. The writing process is one of communication: the author takes what is in her head and puts it on paper, then the reader is meant to take into her head what is written, and to re-imagine it. That's a lot of different filters, and we each arrive at the final result from different places, don't we? My experience in life leads me to imagine Lady Georgie in a different way than Rhys wrote her, for instance.

    I actually liked Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum, even though she was nothing like the way I imagined her when reading the books. My imagination supplied someone more like Kelly Monaco with wilder hair, frankly.

    Helen Mirren is amazing. Period.

  11. Hollywood casts leading roles with an eye toward who audiences will pay money to see.

    As for the US Prime Suspect, I think some unfortunate decisions were made about the show's target audience.

    I admit I'm one of the three people who watched Maria Bello's interpretation of Jane Tennison. I also have to admit, I'd never seen Helen Mirren's. (Yes, I can hear
    the gasps of horror.) I agree that the hat was one of many unfortunate choices for that show, and by the time the producers corrected things, few viewers cared to re-visit.

  12. ceduesRo, I'm flattered to be compared to Helen Mirren, one of my absolute idols, and if I looked as good as she does, I'd never complain again.
    I still think that series was iconic because it was really the first time we saw the reality of a woman acting as a man in a man's world. Other women sleuths had to be devious, creep around cautiously. She had to out-testosterone the men and yet we see what a terrible toll it takes on her. Brilliant

  13. Ro -
    I can't believe you brought up Prime Suspect, because for some reason, I've been thinking a lot about it. Maybe because I just don't fall for most television PI or cop shows.

    I think its Helen Mirren mostly, her ability to get you right into her head with the subtlest of expressions, also a bit of underdog status of the character herself, and for me at least, the entree into a different kind of crime world - the problems of London instead of New York or Boston.

    I AM SO with you on Chummy. But I think that series is great in so many ways.

    into British social problems.

  14. Yeah, I don't know, RO. It's rally difficult to get just the right person, you know? And the picture we each have in our heads of what a character looks like--and IS like--is so individual!

    How about the cop on--what was it called? The Killing? She was pretty great. (although grim and kind of whiny...)

    And yeah, Ro, LOVE the title. Still shaking my head. Although I don't make political comments, natch.

    What's the deal on Ask the MIdwife? I've heard it go by..

  15. Hear, hear, on this blog post's title!

    Ramona and Jan, that's so funny -- I just discovered "Call the Midwife" a few weeks ago, and Chummy makes that show for me. I'm rooting for her and cute constable too!

    Back to Tennison: I had a hard time accepting Bello's portrayal. Maybe that's just American television for you -- subtlety not allowed.

    Hank, I liked the cop on "The Killing" too...Have to admit that I haven't been keeping up--is the show even still on?

  16. Ha ha, Ro, so glad you gave in to Binder temptation:-)

    I think the (original) Prime Suspect was a great example of books translating well to film/TV, due to good scripts and, of course, the marvelous Helen Mirren.

    (And nobody let Jane Tennison go home from work early so she could "fix dinner" for her family!)

    But what I really want to know is why I can't go gracefully, gorgeously, naturally platinum like Helen Mirren and our own Kaye Barley and Rhys Bowen. It's just not fair.

  17. Ro, your title, alone, is worth the visit. Excellent use of the "unfortunate" phrase.

    I adore Helen Mirren. I enjoy everything see her acting in but have not read the PRIME SUSPECT books, yet.

  18. Love the title, love the comments. What are you going to do with Uppity women? Put them in a binder and make sure they cook dinner. Never mind that so many chefs are men...

  19. The re-runs are still playing here in Canada. I love Helen, she played a gritty, tough cop who was better than some of the men in the squad. That said her character still had compassion for the victims.

  20. I never watched Prime Suspect. I do have some British mysteries on D.V.D. such as Campion, Inspector Alleyn, and the Lord Peter series from the 80's. I like the classic type of British mystery on D.V.D., but I do have a season of Pie in the Sky. The guy who played Harry Potter's uncle stars in it (Richard Griffith, I think is his name).

  21. For some reason I'm reminded of (I know I'm dating myself) Angie Dickinson as Police Woman talk about a cliche.with great legs. Mirren was so gutsy as JT - but those scripts were brilliant.

  22. I have to admit that I haven't read the Prime Suspect books but I have seen all of both the BBC and the US series. Aside from the vast differences in acting ability between the two women (Mirren is a goddess, in my mind), the two series approached the material very differently.
    I loved the gritty, in the apartments & back alleys settings of the BBC version, as well as the more realistic interplay in the office.
    Do any cops act like those bozos the US Jane had to deal with??

  23. Love Helen Mirren. Love Prime Suspect (UK version). Thought US version of Prime Suspect was improving. The hat needed to be burned.

    Always enjoy comparing books to movies. Most recent comparison: The Hunger Games. Watched the movie with friends; finally read the book. Movie did it's job...opened the book.

    @L_MarysEyebrows (Twitter)