At the moment ITV1 seems to be having the most success with its crime dramas, whether it be the brilliant Scott & Bailey or the long-running Lewis and tonight it also welcomes back Vera for a second series.
For those who missed it the first time around, the programme stars Brenda Blethyn as DCI Vera Stanhope who works for the Northumberland police force and is a cantankerous yet brilliant detective who often rubs up her colleagues the wrong way. At the start of series two Vera is seen outside of her GP’s office after having been given bad news, however she tells her sergeant Joe Ashworth that she’s been given a clean bill of health and later reveals to him that she has angina. This is a bit of a blow to a woman who in the first episode was a heavy smoker, drunk like a fish and had a penchant for running after criminals despite her advancing years. She also has to solve a crime that is fairly close to home, as it involves her first sergeant Stuart Macken whose house is petrol-bombed leaving his eighteen year old daughter Stella in a coma, while he receives some fairly severe burns after rescuing her from the house. At the hospital Stuart tells Vera that all he ever tried to do was protect her, before he jumps from the fourth floor of the building and takes his own life.
After his suicide Vera discovers from the Chief Super-Intendant that Stuart had changed in the year’s since they had lost contact and had been demoted several times due to the fact he began stalking his ex-wife, Stella’s mother, and her new family. This behaviour alienated him from his daughter for years, however since college she had ignored step-father Brian Gower and re-connected with her father with whom she spent more time with. At first Vera refuses to believe that Stuart had changed that much but Joe forces her to accept that he wasn’t the man he once was and also suspects that Vera may have had a romantic liaison with her former sergeant at some point. The finger of suspicion is initially pointed at Gower after instructions of how to make a petrol-bomb are found on his laptop and his general attitude to Stuart’s behaviour seemed like he was the most obvious subject. Then the police find that Stuart had a man called Dougie Cranham under surveillance, after previously arresting him during a violent protest march while doing overtime. When Stella’s breathing tube is cut-off by a mystery intruder, the search is on for Cranham however have the police got the right man or is there more to the investigation that meets the eye?
Though at times the central investigation storyline gets a little contrived what keeps Vera going is the central performance from Brenda Blethyn who is magnificent in the title role. Making Vera sort of a Geordie approximation of Columbo Blethyn, trudging around the area in a well-worn Mack and a large hat while dishing out insults to those around her. Vera’s tendency to rub people up the wrong way is so severe that one co-worker hands in a transfer notice after her boss mocks her for making up timetables, or for criticising her for bringing Gower in with little evidence. Blethyn is able to bring more to the Vera character in this episode as Stuart’s death hits her fairly hard and she begins to question her own place in life, now both of her closest co-workers have passed away coupled with her recent angina diagnosis.
Like a lot of T.V. detectives, we also see that Vera struggles in social situations, with Joe constantly trying to involve her with his family as he doesn’t like the fact that she is by herself. However she visibly struggles to strike up a conversation with his wife when she goes round for dinner. Blethyn’s performance does mean that others are over-shadowed by her greatness, with David Leon as Joe failing to make an impact while other familiar faces such as Paul Ritter and Nina Sosanya pop up to do a bit of acting then disappear again.
Overall Vera is a mixed bag while I can’t claim that the final revelation of the culprit was predictable, it felt a little over-the-top, especially the fact that one of Stella’s former teachers was involved in some way. I also couldn’t help thinking that Vera felt very similar to a lot of the other crime shows, that the channel has previously aired with a brilliant yet introvert detective who is feared and admired by her colleagues in equal measure. I think that the Northumberland Tourist Board had a hand in the production, as there seemed to be a lot of exterior shots that showed off the vast coastline but had no real point to them. However if you’re after a solid crime show with a fabulous central performance then I think Vera will be just the show for you.