“Vera Stanhope, a sharp detective with a messy life.”
Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn, Atonement) is a hard ass. No two ways around it, really. After her mother passes away when Vera is age 10, Vera grows up under the roof of a man who’s indifferent at best and an abusive alcoholic at worst. It’s no wonder she’s grown into a rather bitter, anti-social and all-around stern detective.
But she’s damn good at her job. She approaches cases with the kind of single-mindedness her superiors appreciate because it means a lot of closed cases, and her colleagues respect her. But few of her coworkers would ever aspire to attain her status simply because it seems to come part and parcel with a woman who has no life outside of her job. Vera’s not exactly the poster child for a woman who has it all, nor does she want to be.
The episodes are each about an hour and a half, and the writers make good use of the time given. They truly feel cohesive and not as though any of them are padded to fill a certain runtime. Instead they are each tightly woven mysteries, aided by the novels upon which they are both based and inspired by, written by award winning novelist Ann Cleeves.
I truly enjoy Vera. She’s not concerned with much of anything besides justice for the victims and as such is easy to relate to. Instead of mucking about with ideas like a “will-they-or-won’t-they” relationship, we get to the most basic level of shared empathy. When we see a horrible story on the news or read about some horrific crime, we can all think “I hope they get whoever did it” and Vera is wish fulfillment in that sense.
Not to say Vera is not an interesting character, because she is, she’s a breath of fresh air in the world of the crime drama. She’s a woman who’s risen through the ranks in a profession very much dominated by males, and that informs her character in so many ways. About the only person who even tries to break through Vera’s exterior is her trusted right hand man, Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth (David Leon, RocknRolla). He is a typical family man, but he genuinely cares about and wants to learn from Vera, who doesn’t make his job easy by any stretch of the imagination. But the best part of Vera as a character is so much is below the surface with her that it’s really entertaining to see bits and pieces of Vera bleed through her choices, actions, words, and surroundings.
The one nitpick I have with the show is there is a scene where you can see the reflection of the camera within the glass of a moving vehicle. Sure, the moment is over in, well, a moment but this should never had made it past the editing staff. A quality show deserves better.
Vera: Set 3 contains four episodes spread across an equal amount of discs. A brief description of each follows:
“Castles in the Air”
Vera and Joe investigate the shooting death of a young physiotherapist, only to uncover evidence she may not have been the intended target.
When a surgeon is killed and his two teenage daughters abducted, Vera and Joe must figure out the motive for such a crime as well as the perpetrator’s identity. Their search leads them to a startling suspect.
A man engulfed in flames dives off a cliff to his death in the water below. Joe and Vera must weed out the likely assailant, a task made difficult when it’s learned the victim was an aggressive bully.
When a former police officer is murdered, the entire force rallies behind the cause, determined to apprehend the guilty party. But a series of deceptions makes the case a hard one to crack.
Vera is one of the finest British crime dramas, and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, period. It’s compelling in its deceptive simplicity, and each episode leaves me anxious to watch the next, which is just what a show should do for its audience.
Vera: Set 3 puts one episode on each disc, which thrills me in terms of ratio because it eliminates that pesky peeve of mine, compression artifacting. The color timing of the 1.78:1 transfer is such the countryside is displayed in its most natural light. No excessive tricks were employed in order to make England look like a sunny paradise. Instead, the video transfer is clean, crisp, and made to look as ordinary as it can, which I mean in the most complimentary way. And it works because the eye is drawn to the characters, not the background, and we are thus able to focus without the distraction of artificial scenery.
The audio track could stand to be upgraded to Dolby Digital 5.1, to be honest. It sounds a bit soft which isn’t ordinarily a huge issue, just turn it up and you’re fine. However, there is a lot of slang and the actors speak like normal people, assuming their audience will figure out the gist of what they’re saying without the need to modulate their speaking pace. And they’re correct, I just needed to let my ears become accustomed to the actors’ cadences and I was fine, and you will be too. But an upgrade in audio would mean the track would allow for more blending, thus the dialogue could sit just above the ambient noise, backgrounds, and occasional effects and it would sound better.
Bonus features include a photo gallery and text interviews from Brenda Blethyn and David Leon.
I adore Vera, both the show overall and its namesake lead character. The show is fast-paced, well-written and extremely well acted. It’s worth viewing for those looking for a new type of lead detective to root for.