TV review A no-nonsense sleuth makes a welcome return
VERA sailed back into view this week for a seventh series (Sunday, ITV, 9pm). Or did she hove? Maybe she lumbered or ambled? Detectives of a more amateur nature may have picked up on a tendency to tiptoe round descriptions of Northumberland DCI Vera Stanhope for fear of causing offence. Yet every television ’tec needs a unique selling point, and Vera’s is that she is a woman of a certain age and a particular girth who looks as though she sleeps in a hedge. In short, she is the spit of millions of other ordinary women at the end of a working week. Clever, eh?
Vera’s lack of pretence is why fans adore Ann Cleeves’ character and Brenda Blethyn’s portrayal of her. One day the fashion world will discover the Vera “look” and send an army of size six models down the runway in brutally clashing patterns, souwester hats and sludge-coloured trench-coats. Karl Lagerfeld probably spent this first episode sketching away like crazy.
Natural Selection was a typically moreish mystery about a young woman, apparently alone on an island save for the birds she is there to monitor in her job as a conservation officer, who is found murdered. Either some of our avian friends have been watching later period Hitchcock, or humankind is up to no good again.
It was a determinedly bleak piece. Even when the sun was shining Vera kept her hat on, while each witness seemed to carry their own personal rain cloud wherever they went. It would have been a depressing watch save for the circle of warmth that is Vera. Not since The Likely Lads has the Geordie accent seemed so toasty and comforting. Interviewees are never Mr or Miss to Vera; they are always “pet” or “love”. If she ever had to question the artist known as Cheryl, and I don’t know why she would, the world would reach peak Geordie.
Not that Vera is a soft touch, mind. Those who dare to underestimate her are treated to a sharp purse of the lips, a falcon-like tilt of the head and a terse “Hmmm”. One would not wish to be on the receiving end of a “Hmmm” from Vera, or to meet again many of the troubled souls she encounters, but Vera herself, she is always welcome to stop by for a cup of something strong and
amber. As is her sergeant sidekick, Aiden (Kenny Doughty), whose job description seems to include hauling Vera to her feet at regular intervals. Nice gizmo if you can get it. Wonder if Amazon stocks Aidens?
American Justice (Tuesday, BBC Two, 9pm) turned the cameras on Jacksonville, Florida. It was a long way from Vera country. As the opening frames of the documentary informed us, the US is the only country in the world where voters decide directly who delivers law and order. A way of ensuring the system works for the people, say defenders; the path to abuses of power, reckon critics.
Directors Jonny Taylor and Arthur Carey spoke to victims’ relatives, the accused, detectives and lawyers. All seemed in their own ways prisoners of a rigid system struggling to cope with the number of cases that washed up at its doors, though some paid a far higher price than others. Playing out against this backdrop was the fight for the post of state’s attorney, with the incumbent, a hardliner who has earned a national reputation for her backing of the death penalty, facing a challenge from a more liberal opponent. Next week the programme tackles race. Best buckle up.
Fifteen minutes into Tuesday’s Reporting Scotland (BBC One, weekdays, 6.30pm), Jackie Bird had a surprise for viewers. No, she did not shove her desk aside like Angela Rippon and launch into a high-kicking dance routine. Maybe that’s next week. No, since it was an historic day with Holyrood debating a second independence referendum and everything, Jackie B announced we were to be treated to a Mrs Merton-style heated debate in a specially extended programme. Suddenly, The One Show didn’t seem so bad after all.
But viewers in Scotland were to be denied that treat for now. So here we were. Two politicians, the Conservatives’ Adam Tomkins and the SNP’s Fiona Hyslop, taking questions from host Glenn Campbell and an audience specially selected to represent Remain/ Leave/Yes/No/Don’t Knows/Uncle Tom Cobley and anyone else the researchers could think of. Voices were raised, the politicians said nothing we had not heard before, and the whole experience was about as illuminating as a black hole. Only a few more years of this to go. Wonder if there is any room left on that island of birds?
In Geordie DCI Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn) the author Ann Cleeves has created a straight-talking detective whose sidekick Aiden (Kenny Doughty) offers regular support to his boss