Every detective has to have a gimmick. Vera Stanhope’s is that she’s from the north. Apart from wearing a floppy hat, I can’t see that she’s got much more going for her than that – although on television nowadays, a regional accent is as rare as a ballet.
Vera (ITV, Sundays 8pm) works for the fictional Northumberland and City Police and Brenda Blethyn portrays her as a highly strung woman constantly shouting to be heard over the crash of waves. The scenery surrounding her is breathtaking – and is filmed so well. The bodies pile up on cliff edges, stone-walled farms or in fields of long green reeds. Viewing from Kent, where we’re squeezed into the suburbs like bourgeois sardines, I’m envious of an empty land where you can shoot someone with an elephant gun and nobody would notice. “In Sunderland, no one can hear you scream.”
Vera is driven by “the need to know”. It’s the curse of every good detective. When a girl is found dead on an island nature reserve, Vera shows up in a boat to investigate. Of course, the suits want to dismiss it as a drowning. But Vera won’t let it go because she needs to know what really happened. To cut a long story short, the girl didn’t drown by accident and – you’ve got to give the writers credit for being brave enough to suggest this – she might actually have had it coming. Vera, needing to know more, doggedly pursues the leads. This climaxes in a ridiculous ending with not just one but two reveals, and while Vera stomps around a field in her mad hat, shouting above the wind about wanting to know stuff, I was tempted to give up and turn over to the darts.
But that landscape! It’s so beautiful. The kind of landscape that seems to watch everything we do and mock its uselessness.Vera’s not half bad. Forgettable but enjoyable, with a nice performance by its lead. Perhaps its greatest strength, however, is that it lets England speak for itself – and our stunning landscape has so much to say about our trivial schemes and cruelties.
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