The Bletchley Circle Review: Murder Most Enigmatic
It seems that the scheduling gods have decided that Autumn ‘tis the season for drama in Tellyland, with broadcasters stepping over each other to cram our TV schedules full of the stuff. So far we’ve been treated to an array of top-notch productions, including Mrs Biggs, Parade’s End, and not forgetting The Accused, which featured Northern ubermensch Sean Bean strutting his stuff as a transvestite.
Last night saw the premiere of yet another drama to add to the list, the much anticipated three-part murder mystery The Bletchley Circle, set in the post-war 1950s before Milton Keynes, teenagers, or tiger bread had even been invented.
The premise is simple enough: four female Enigma codebreakers who provided crucial intelligence during World War II find themselves deemed superfluous now peacetime has kicked in and an all-male police force rules the roost. One of these women, Susan (portrayed by Anna Maxwell Martin), notices a pattern emerging between a series of murders in the area, and in true Scooby Doo style gets the crack team back together for one last gig to try to solve the mystery.
Viewers are introduced to crime fighters Susan, Millie, Lucy and Jean working at Bletchley Park in 1943, in a pre-credits scene which is so unsubtle, it might as well be running a breaking news ticker that reads “EXPOSITION!” along the bottom of the screen.
But scroll forward nine years on from those halcyon days of war, and we see Susan spending her days furiously knitting away in her armchair, now a housewife and mother to two by-products of the baby boom. As ITV seems keen to remind us it’s now the 1950s, and viewers are treated to frequent references to “the wireless” and a brief incidental montage of people handing over their ration books in the local bakery, just to hammer the point home.
Watching The Bletchley Circle I can’t help by feel that it is stylistically closer to the rural Middle England curtain-twitching combined with tacit teatime slaughter porn of Midsomer Murders, than Jimmy McGovern-penned kitchen sink grit.
It fully justifies its post-watershed billing through the nature of the serial killer’s crimes alone- I for one don’t recall a murderer with a penchant for necrophilia troubling the locals in Heartbeat. That said, the show features no on-screen bloodshed, and the gruesome nature of the crimes are only unearthed because the women use their wits to research the local coroner’s records.
Yet while the crimes may be sickening, I do feel that the episode struggled to generate a necessary sense of threat as any good murder mystery should do. It was unrealistic in places too, with the female crime fighting team reacting in an almost nonchalant way upon finding out that the maniac they are trying to find murders then rapes his victims. This fact doesn’t deter them one bit either from tracking him down on their own, which is at best commendably brave and at worst utterly suicidal.
That said, there were a lot of positives to be had, with Anna Maxwell Martin in particular following up her acclaimed performance in Accused earlier in the week with another strong showing.
I also felt that this stylish first episode, although slow in places, definitely had promise, effectively laying down groundwork for the rest of the series. It may not radically shake up the murder mystery genre, but it isn’t merely a generic murder-at-the-vicarage, we’ve-all-been-here-before set up either.
Roll on part two…