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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

PBS Prime Suspect, Helen Mirren Takes a Final Bow

Helen Mirren, whose supremely controlled performance in THE QUEEN is one of the year’s best, reigned over the the small screen this year, too: she won an an Emmy and a BAFTA for her lead role in HBO’S ELIZABETH I.
She’s even better in the final installment of PBS’ police procedural PRIME SUSPECT (PBS, Sunday Nov. 12 and 19, check local listings for airtime). In THE FINAL ACT, she plays – for the seventh time in fifteen years — DSI Jane Tennison, an iconic TV character. Tennison’s career as a top investigator started badly: she campaigned for high-profile murder case and only got the assignment after a popular male detective dropped dead on the job. Her career with Scotland Yard ends ugly, too. At the start of THE FINAL ACT, she’s an alcoholic who downs half a bottle of vodka before blacking out at night, and drinks the other half for breakfast.
I wrote about her in the current issue of the Boston Phoenix. Troy Patterson of Slate writes a review that I wish I had, so I’ll have to quote him:
“In one of Mirren’s many striking scenes, Tennison is at her father’s house, drinking alone, and she opens a box containing the hat she wore as a 17-year-old bobby. She caresses it, pulls it on, smoothes her hair, fits the brim just right, juts her chin with just pride, and beams—and then her eyes fill up fast with an impossible weight. A second later, still at her dad’s, she drop the needle on an LP, and the room fills up with Dusty Springfield’s “Stay Awhile,” and Jane Tennison dances by herself, twirling even as the record skips, and the song’s still playing when she crawls into bed to pass out. The scene is heartbreaking: This is Jane’s lone moment of freedom.”
Here’s a link to a review of PRIME SUSPECT: THE FINAL ACT by New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley who writes: “For all her flaws and brusque schoolmarmish cool, Tennison has a special sensitivity to victims, a repressed compassion that fuels her zeal to see justice done.”
PBS’s official site for Prime Suspect with plot summaries, cast information and a history of the series.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon