Prime Sus­pect 1973: Stefanie Mar­tini stars as Jane Ten­ni­son.

She’s one of the most iconic char­ac­ters in TV drama – mould-break­ing fe­male de­tec­tive Jane Ten­ni­son. Crime Scene meets Stefanie Mar­tini as she takes on the role for gritty ITV pre­quel Prime Sus­pect 1973.

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When Lynda La Plante pub­lished her Jane Ten­ni­son ori­gin story in 2015, a TV se­ries was never go­ing to be far be­hind. Eigh­teen months later, Prime Sus­pect 1973 is re­port­ing for duty on ITV. A gritty, au­then­ti­cally ’70s pre­quel, the show doesn’t shy away from the era’s in­sti­tu­tional sex­ism, po­lice bru­tal­ity or gar­ish fash­ion.

Based on La Plante’s Ten­ni­son novel, Prime Sus­pect 1973 stars Ste­fanie Mar­tini ( En­deav­our, Doc­tor Thorne) in her first lead­ing role, a prospect made even more daunt­ing by Os­car-win­ner He­len Mir­ren’s per­for­mance as the de­tec­tive from 1991 to 2006. When Crime Scene meets Mar­tini on the 14th floor of ITV’S Lon­don TV Cen­tre, the 26-year-old is tak­ing it in her stride. Con­fi­dent, talk­a­tive and given to spon­ta­neous bursts of laugh­ter, she’s thrilled about land­ing the role.

“It is a lot of pres­sure. I know that a lot of peo­ple have a very strong re­la­tion­ship with the orig­i­nal se­ries,” says the Rada-trained Mar­tini, whose West Coun­try up­bring­ing is not ob­vi­ous in her ac­cent. “But that’s great. It’s a chal­lenge and a re­ally good op­por­tu­nity as an ac­tress. It’s a very unique sit­u­a­tion – it’s been ter­ri­fy­ing but also ex­hil­a­rat­ing. I guess we’ll just have to see what hap­pens.”

The first episode is a re­as­sur­ing in­tro­duc­tion to the young Ten­ni­son – Mar­tini is clearly not over­awed by the episodes she’s seen of the orig­i­nal.

“It’s great hav­ing He­len Mir­ren’s per­for­mance,” she says. “It was very use­ful to have that to work to­wards. But I think in this script she’s in­cred­i­bly dif­fer­ent. She’s very naïve, she’s young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced and clumsy – she doesn’t re­ally know what she’s do­ing.”

While the young Ten­ni­son is “keen and ea­ger”, she’s signed up at a time when WPCS were still seen, es­sen­tially, as skivvies and uni­formed so­cial work­ers. Women of­fi­cers joined the Metropoli­tan Po­lice in 1919, though the first fe­male de­tec­tive was not ap­pointed un­til 1973, the same year that the “women’s de­part­ment” was fully in­te­grated into the Met.

Prime Sus­pect 1973 be­gins with the dis­cov­ery of dead girl’s body in Hack­ney, though for any­one un­der 50 the mur­der is not as shock­ing as the bla­tant sex­ism. As well as be­ing bul­lied, Ten­ni­son is ex­pected to serve tea and bis­cuits, do the wash­ing up and mop up vomit left by pris­on­ers. A former WPC ad­vi­sor con­firmed to the cast that all this was no ex­ag­ger­a­tion.

“That sort of sex­ism was just ac­cepted,” says Mar­tini. “From the peo­ple I’ve spo­ken to, it seemed like that ex­pec­ta­tion of women to ful­fil cer­tain do­mes­tic du­ties – even at work – that’s just the way it was.” For Jane and her col­league Kath Mor­gan (Jes­sica Gun­ning), the so­lu­tion is to laugh it off and try and be smarter than the men. “It’s kind of the same as to­day,” adds Mar­tini. “If you’re a woman and you have an idea and want to put it across but you don’t want to make the man feel at­tacked, you have to do it in a slightly dif­fer­ent way.”

It def­i­nitely works for Ten­ni­son, who’s a 22-year-old WPC on pro­ba­tion when her ea­ger­ness re­sults in her as­sist­ing on the mur­der case with DI Len Brad­field (Sam Reid). “He’s like her men­tor – he takes her un­der his wing and gets her in­volved in the cases,” ex­plains Mar­tini, though she’s tight-lipped about any screen ro­mance.

Her ini­ti­a­tion into de­tec­tive work is the first episode’s post­mortem ex­am­i­na­tion, filmed in a real mor­tu­ary. As it’s the ’70s, Ten­ni­son smokes a cig­a­rette to dis­guise the smell of the corpse. “It was very creepy film­ing that but also good – it felt real,” says Mar­tini. “And it’s the first time she’s seen a dead body.” But def­i­nitely not the last.

The dark side of 1970s polic­ing was the heavy-handed handed ap­proach to sus­pects – think Life On Mars, with fewer laughs – and the cor­rup­tion. “The po­lice bru­tal­ity sur­prised me,” says Mar­tini. “Rules were very much bent, and you could just slap a crim­i­nal about and that would be kind of ex­pected. The twist­ing of the rules within the sta­tion is in­ter­est­ing, and that’s ex­plored in the pro­gramme.”

Does Ten­ni­son be­come com­pro­mised? “She has a sense of right and wrong, but that’s also some­thing that gets chal­lenged by the po­lice force it­self. How does she keep her in­tegrity in that world? Does she bend, does she go with it? She gets put in some re­ally dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions.”

If Prime Sus­pect 1973 sounds a bit bleak, don’t worry: the ’70s weren’t all bad. The show has an ar­rest­ing sound­track from the era, in­clud­ing Blind Faith, Cat Stevens and Pink Floyd. Even the fash­ion has its high points. “It’s a dif­fer­ent colour pal­ette. I just felt like I was slowly time trav­el­ling,” says Mar­tini. “Yel­lows, or­anges, browns. Be­fore this I wasn’t ac­tu­ally that keen on the ’70s, and now I think it’s kind of amaz­ing.”

The po­lice bru­tal­ity sur­prised me. Rules were very much bent

There’s also plenty of ac­tion over the course of the se­ries. Ten­ni­son gets to drive a Hill­man Hunter (“re­ally fun”), while the open­ing scene has her leap­ing off a mov­ing bus to come to the aid of woman be­ing mugged. There was a stunt dou­ble, though Mar­tini did have to do a lot of run­ning – not that easy in an out­fit from 1973. “The uni­form isn’t very prac­ti­cal,” she ex­plains. “Run­ning in a knee-length woollen skirt is not the best thing. It’s kind of dorky.”

De­spite the sar­to­rial chal­lenges, Mar­tini en­joyed the Lon­don shoot last sum­mer along­side a largely young cast. “I’ve never corpsed so much on set – I lit­er­ally was gig­gling all the time,” she re­calls. “Every­one got on so well. I think what’s quite cool about this is that a lot of the po­lice of­fi­cers are quite young, and it’s also fo­cus­ing on a young woman try­ing to make her way in this man’s world.”

Mir­ren’s per­for­mance is a land­mark in crime drama, though the two ac­tors have not dis­cussed the role yet. “I’d love to meet her,” says Mar­tini. “I’m not try­ing to make any bold, con­scious de­ci­sion to try to be like her. I think she’s sup­port­ive of the pro­duc­tion and re­leased a state­ment say­ing that it’s a good idea for young women to see what it was like back then.”

How­ever, there’s been less con­sen­sus with La Plante. As the cre­ator of Prime Sus­pect, she was cen­tral to its suc­cess, though ITV an­nounced her de­ci­sion to “step back” from the pre­quel. It’s not clear whether the chan­nel will con­tinue to adapt her nov­els or de­vise its own sto­ries. But hav­ing stepped into Ten­ni­son’s shoes, Mar­tini is ready to re­turn to the beat for a sec­ond se­ries: “I would love it if it hap­pened again.”

Prime Sus­pect 1973 airs on ITV and is avail­able on­line at the ITV Hub.

L tor: DC Hud­son (Tom­mym­c­don­nell), DI LEN Brad­field (Sam­reid), WPC­JANE Ten­ni­son (Ste­faniemar­tini), DS Spencer Gibbs (Blake Har­ri­son), Dced­wards (Joshua Hill).

Ste­faniemar­tini takes on the role of Jane Ten­ni­son.

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