Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect is a British police procedural television series devised by Lynda La Plante. It stars Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison, one of the first female Detective Chief Inspectors in Greater London's Metropolitan Police Service, who rises to the rank of Detective Superintendent while confronting institutionalised sexism within the police force.

Prime Suspect
Prime Suspect title
GenrePolice procedural
Created byLynda La Plante
StarringHelen Mirren
ComposerStephen Warbeck
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series7
No. of episodes15 (list of episodes)
Running time100 minutes
Production companiesGranada Television/ITV Productions
WGBH Boston/Masterpiece Mystery
DistributorGranada Television International (1991)
Granada LWT International (1992–95)
British Independent Television Enterprises (1996)
Granada International (2003–06)
Original networkITV
Picture format4:3 (1991–1992)
14:9 (1993–1996)
16:9 (2003–2006)
Audio formatStereo
Original release7 April 1991 (1991-04-07) 
22 October 2006 (2006-10-22)


Prime Suspect focuses on a no-nonsense female Detective Chief Inspector (DCI), Jane Tennison (played by Helen Mirren), who is an officer in the Metropolitan Police, initially at the fictional Southampton Row police station.

The series follows her constant battles to prove herself within a male-dominated profession in which many of her colleagues are determined to see her fail, though she has the support of her boss, Detective Chief Superintendent Mike Kernan (John Benfield), and the loyalty of Detective Sergeant Richard Haskons (Richard Hawley).

In later series, Tennison is reassigned to rotating duties, including a vice squad in Soho and a gang squad in Manchester. She is promoted to Detective Superintendent in series 4 and retires from policing at the end of series 7.


Main cast

  • Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, initially of Southampton Row Police Station in Central London, later Detective Superintendent in series 4. Mirren has described Tennison as "extremely directed, ambitious, talented and very uncompromising. Therefore she is deeply frustrated by her job; the way her sex is a barrier."[1]
  • John Benfield as Detective Superintendent Michael Kernan (series 1–4), Tennison's supervisor, later Detective Chief Superintendent
  • Richard Hawley as Detective Constable Richard Haskons (series 1–4), later Detective Sergeant and Detective Inspector
  • Tom Bell as Detective Sergeant Bill Otley (series 1, 3, 7)
  • Jack Ellis as Detective Inspector Tony Muddyman (series 1–2, 4)
  • Craig Fairbrass as Detective Inspector Frank Burkin (series 1–2)
  • Mossie Smith as Constable Maureen Havers (series 1, 4)
  • Ian Fitzgibbon as Detective Constable Jones (series 1–2)
  • Philip Wright as Detective Constable Lillie (series 1–3)
  • Andrew Tiernan as Detective Constable Rosper (series 1–2)
  • Gary Whelan as Detective Sergeant Terry Amson (series 1)
  • Stephen Boxer as Detective Chief Inspector Thorndike, later Detective Superintendent (series 2–4)
  • Stafford Gordon as Commander Traynor (series 2–4)
  • Mark Strong as Detective Inspector Larry Hall (series 3, 6), later Detective Chief Superintendent in series 6
  • Robert Pugh as Detective Sergeant Alun Simms (series 6–7)

Supporting cast, including notable guest stars

  • Tom Wilkinson as Peter Rawlins (series 1), Tennison's divorced live-in boyfriend
  • Zoë Wanamaker as Moyra Hanson (series 1), George Marlow's common law wife
  • Ralph Fiennes as Michael (series 1)
  • John Bowe as George Marlow (series 1)
  • Maxine Audley as Doris Marlow (series 1)
  • Colin Salmon as Detective Sergeant Bob Oswalde (series 2)
  • George Harris as Vernon Allen (series 2)
  • Lloyd McGuire as Sergeant Calder (series 2)
  • Peter Capaldi as Vera/Vernon Reynolds (series 3)
  • Andrew Woodall as Detective Inspector Brian Dalton (series 3)
  • David Thewlis as James Jackson (series 3)
  • James Frain as Jason Baldwin (series 3), an adult child abuse victim
  • Struan Rodger as Superintendent Halliday (series 3)
  • Chris Fairbank as Detective Chief Inspector David Lyall (series 3)
  • Ciarán Hinds as Edward Parker-Jones (series 3), the manager of a community centre
  • Kelly Hunter as Jessica Smithy (series 3), a reporter
  • Jonny Lee Miller as Anthony Field (series 3), an adult victim of child abuse
  • Mark Drewry as Detective Inspector Ray Hebdon (series 3)
  • Danny Dyer as Martin Fletcher (series 3), a homeless street boy
  • Stuart Wilson as Dr Patrick Schofield (series 4), a psychologist whom Tennison consults, and then dates
  • Sophie Stanton as Detective Sergeant Christine Cromwell (series 4)
  • Beatie Edney as Susan Covington (series 4), a young mother whose child is kidnapped
  • Robert Glenister as Chris Hughes (series 4)
  • Lesley Sharp as Anne Sutherland (series 4)
  • Jill Baker as Maria Henry (series 4), a lawyer
  • Kelly Reilly as Polly Henry (series 4), Maria's daughter
  • Christopher Fulford as Detective Chief Inspector Tom Mitchell (series 4)
  • Tim Woodward as George Marlow (series 4)
  • Joyce Redman as Doris Marlow (series 4)
  • David Ryall as Oscar Bream (series 2,4)
  • Marc Warren as Detective Constable Andy Dyson (series 4)
  • Steven Mackintosh as Clive Norton a.k.a. "The Street" (series 5)
  • David O'Hara as Detective Sergeant Gerry Rankine (series 5)
  • Marsha Thomason as Janice Lafferty (series 5)
  • Ray Emmet Brown as Michael Johns (series 5)
  • John McArdle as Detective Chief Superintendent Ballinger (series 5)
  • Julia Lane as Detective Inspector Claire Devanney (series 5)
  • Liam Cunningham as Robert West (series 6)
  • Ben Miles as Detective Chief Inspector Simon Finch (series 6)
  • Sam Hazeldine as Detective Constable David Butcher (series 6)
  • Barnaby Kay as Detective Constable Michael Philips (series 6)
  • Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė as Jasmina Blekic (series 6)
  • Tanya Moodie as Detective Constable Lorna Grieves (series 6)
  • Velibor Topic as Dusan Zigic (series 6)
  • Oleg Menshikov as Milan Lukic/Dragan Yankovich (series 6)
  • Clare Holman as Mrs Lukic (series 6)
  • Frank Finlay as Arnold Tennison (series 6)
  • Phoebe Nicholls as Shaw (series 6)
  • Rad Lazar as Kasim Ibrahimovic (series 6)
  • Gary Lewis as Tony Sturdy (series 7)
  • Stephen Tompkinson as Sean Philips (series 7)
  • Laura Greenwood as Penny Philips (series 7)
  • Eve Best as Linda Philips (series 7)
  • Brendan Coyle as DCS Mitchell (series 7)
  • Robbie Gee as Detective Inspector Traynor (series 7)
  • Ellie Kendrick as Melanie (series 7)
  • Russell Mabey as Detective Inspector Cox (series 7)
  • Carolyn Pickles as Pauline Hammond (series 7)


SeriesEpisodesOriginally airedAvg. UK viewers
First airedLast aired
127 April 1991 (1991-04-07)8 April 1991 (1991-04-08)14.02
2215 December 1992 (1992-12-15)16 December 1992 (1992-12-16)14.35
3219 December 1993 (1993-12-19)20 December 1993 (1993-12-20)14.15
4330 April 1995 (1995-04-30)15 May 1995 (1995-05-15)12.73
5220 October 1996 (1996-10-20)21 October 1996 (1996-10-21)14.52
629 November 2003 (2003-11-09)10 November 2003 (2003-11-10)10.19
7215 October 2006 (2006-10-15)22 October 2006 (2006-10-22)8.21

Concept and development


The first series features sexism in the workplace as a significant subplot and a barrier to the investigation. Sequels have tended to downplay this theme, relying on straight procedure or on other subplots, such as institutional racism in Prime Suspect 2 or child sexual abuse and prostitution in Prime Suspect 3, but they continue to demonstrate the determination of some of Tennison's male peers and those in upper echelons to see her fail.

Tennison's difficulty in achieving a balance between her work and her life outside the job, and her difficulty in maintaining stable relationships, are recurring themes within the series. Towards the end of Prime Suspect 3 she arranges to have her pregnancy terminated. As the series progresses, she increasingly relies on alcohol to help her cope. This culminates in the final episode of the series in her attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, where she finally acknowledges and confronts her addiction.


Prime Suspect is set mostly in London and surrounding areas, but series 5 is set in Manchester.


Every series of Prime Suspect except series 4 follows a single case and runs around 312 hours (excluding commercials). It has usually been shown in two or four parts. Prime Suspect 4 is an exception at slightly over five hours, with three separate cases.

The first five series were produced annually from 1991 to 1996, until Mirren left the role, supposedly to avoid typecasting (according to a PBS interview). She returned to play the character in 2003 and again in 2006.

Prime Suspect was produced by Granada Television for the ITV network. Series four to seven were co-produced by WGBH Boston for its Masterpiece Mystery anthology series.


The first five series were scored by the Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, who was nominated for a BAFTA TV Award for Prime Suspect series one. Rob Lane composed the music for Series 6. Nicholas Hooper won a BAFTA TV Award for his score for Series 7.

Reception and impact

Prime Suspect was voted 68th in the list of 100 Greatest British Television Programmes as compiled by a poll given by the British Film Institute, and in 2007 it was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME."[2] The series has won multiple BAFTA Awards, Emmy Awards, and a Peabody Award.

Awards and nominations

Prime Suspect won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Drama Serial over G.B.H. in 1991.[3] Afterwards, four of the seven voting members of the jury raised a discrepancy to jury chairperson Irene Shubik,[4] and later signed a public statement declaring that they had voted for G.B.H. to win.[3] BAFTA Chairman Richard Price stated that the ballot papers passed on to him by Shubik had shown four votes for Prime Suspect and three for G.B.H.[3] Price claimed that the ballot papers could not be recounted as they had subsequently been destroyed.[4] Prime Suspect won Best Drama Serial once more for series three, and was nominated four other times.[5] The series won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries three times, and was nominated twice more.[6]

Mirren won three BAFTA TV Awards for Best Actress for the role, and has been nominated three other times.[5] She won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie twice, with four additional nominations.[6]

Prime Suspect 3 was awarded a Peabody Award in 1993 for its realistic scenes and dialogue.[7][8] Writer/creator Lynda La Plante received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for series one in the category of Best TV Feature or Miniseries. The following year, Allan Cubitt won in the same category for series two. Prime Suspect was later nominated for series three and six.[9]

Series Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Series 1 (1991) BAFTA TV Award Best TV Actress Helen Mirren Won [5]
Zoe Wanamaker Nominated
Best TV Actor Tom Bell Nominated
Best Drama Serial Christopher Menaul, Lynda La Plante, Don Leaver Won
Best Film or Video Editor – Fiction Edward Mansell Won
Best Film or Video Photography – Fiction Ken Morgan Won
Sound – Fiction Ray French, Brian Saunders, John Rutherford, Paul Griffiths-Davies Nominated
Design Roy Stonehouse Nominated
Original Television Music Stephen Warbeck Nominated
Edgar Award Best TV Feature or Miniseries Lynda La Plante Won [9]
Series 2 (1992) BAFTA TV Award Best TV Actress Helen Mirren Won [5]
Best Drama Serial Paul Marcus, John Strickland, Allan Cubitt Nominated
Best Film or Video Editor – Fiction Edward Mansell Nominated
Sound – Fiction Nick Steer, John Rutherford, John Thomas, John Senior, Jaquie Ophir, John Whitworth Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Miniseries Sally Head, Paul Marcus Won [6]
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special Helen Mirren Nominated
Edgar Award Best TV Feature or Miniseries Allan Cubitt Won [9]
Series 3 (1993) BAFTA TV Award Best TV Actress Helen Mirren Won [5]
Best Drama Serial Paul Marcus, David Drury, Lynda La Plante Won
Best Film or Video Editor – Fiction Edward Mansell Nominated
Design Chris Truelove Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Miniseries Sally Head, Paul Marcus Won [6]
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special Helen Mirren Nominated
Outstanding Writing in a Miniseries or Special Lynda La Plante Nominated
Peabody Award Won [7]
Edgar Award Best TV Feature or Miniseries Lynda La Plante Nominated [9]
Series 4 (1995) BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Helen Mirren Nominated [5]
Drama Series Paul Marcus Nominated
Photography and Lighting – Fiction David Odd Nominated
Sound – Fiction/Entertainment Nick Steer, John Rutherford, John Senior, John Whitworth Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries Helen Mirren Won [6]
Series 5 (1996) BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Helen Mirren Nominated [5]
Emmy Award Outstanding Miniseries Gub Neal, Rebecca Eaton, Lynn Horsford Won [6]
Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or Special Helen Mirren Nominated
Series 6 (2003) BAFTA TV Award Best Actress Helen Mirren Nominated [5]
Best Drama Serial David Boulter, Peter Berry, Tom Hooper Nominated
Editing – Fiction/Entertainment St John O’Rorke Nominated
Sound – Fiction/Entertainment Simon Okin, Ben Baird, Nick Roberts Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie Helen Mirren Nominated [6]
Outstanding Miniseries or Movie David Boulter, Rebecca Eaton, Andy Harries Nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries Movie or a Dramatic Special Tom Hooper Nominated
Edgar Award Best TV Feature or Miniseries Peter Berry Nominated [9]
Series 7 (2006) BAFTA TV Award Best Original TV Music Nicholas Hooper Won [5]
Best Writing Frank Deasy Nominated
Editing – Fiction/Entertainment Trevor Waite Nominated
Best Drama Serial Andrew Benson, Philip Martin, Frank Deasy, Andy Harries Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or Movie Helen Mirren Won [6]
Outstanding Writing – Miniseries or Movie Frank Deasy Won
Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or Movie Philip Martin Won
Outstanding Miniseries or Movie Andrew Benson, Philip Martin, Frank Deasy, Andy Harries Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Helen Mirren Nominated [10]
Best Miniseries or Television Film Andrew Benson, Philip Martin, Frank Deasy, Andy Harries Nominated

Influence on other programmes

Many observers have viewed Prime Suspect as the inspiration for female characters in U.S. TV series, particularly noting strong similarities between this series in general—and the character of Jane Tennison in particular—and the later American series The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick in the role of Deputy Chief of Police Brenda Leigh Johnson. Critics noted the similarities between the series in a stronger way during the first seasons of The Closer, with one 2006 article in USA Today calling The Closer "an unofficial Americanization" of the British series,[11] and a later reviewer noting that, "When The Closer was first shown, critics were quick to compare it to Prime Suspect...[and] there's something in that...."[12]

In interviews Sedgwick has acknowledged that The Closer owes "a debt" to Prime Suspect, and that her admiration for that show and for Mirren were factors that first interested her in the role.[13] According to Sedgwick, Prime Suspect was one of the shows that "paved the way" for The Closer,[14] and her manager got her interested in the series by saying that it was "a little bit like Prime Suspect."[15][16] Sedgwick is quoted as saying that the Tennison character did become her inspiration in some ways for her portrayal of Brenda Leigh Johnson.[17]

Reviewers in U.S. papers, including the Christian Science Monitor, have noted that The Closer, while not a direct remake of the British series, "owes" much to it,[18] or that it "echoes many of the elements" of it.[19] One The New York Times article refers to The Closer as a "direct descendant" of Prime Suspect, although less hard-hitting than the original:

There is one show, however, that is a direct descendant, however different its tone might be: The Closer, on which Kyra Sedgwick’s Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson obsesses over her cases, tramples feelings and battles the old-boy network. Her vice, however, is candy; no booze or one-night stands. If you want the hard stuff, you need to head back to Prime Suspect.[20]

Other reviewers have also made the point that the differences between Tennison and Johnson are as important as their similarities:

But then there's the locker-room pissiness of her [Johnson's] all-male department, which she navigates like an estrogen version of Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison. (That's not a running gag error, either: Sedgwick plays Johnson as if her toughness, intelligence and wit blossomed naturally from her Southern femininity, whereas Helen Mirren plays the dogged Tennison as if womanhood were a liability.)[21]

NBC picked up an adaptation of the British series for the 2011–2012 season.[22] It was taken off the schedule after 13 episodes were produced.[23]


In 1997 a short spoof episode Prime Cracker was produced for the BBC's biennial Red Nose Day charity telethon in aid of Comic Relief. A crossover with ITV stablemate crime drama Cracker, the spoof starred Mirren and Cracker lead Robbie Coltrane as their characters from the respective series, sending up the perceived ultra-seriousness of both shows.

Dead Ringers featured a parody with Queen Elizabeth II in the lead role, as a reaction to Helen Mirren's portrayal of her in the 2006 film The Queen.

Prequel series

A six-part prequel, Prime Suspect 1973, was announced in 2015 by ITV, based on the book Tennison by Lynda La Plante, adapted by Glen Laker. It tells the story of a 22 year old Jane Tennison as a probationary WPC in Hackney, London, investigating her first murder case.[24] The series began airing on 2 March 2017. The role of Tennison is played by Stefanie Martini.[25] In June 2017, ITV confirmed that the series had not been recommissioned for a second series.[26]

Home media

On 1 October 2013, Netflix made the Series 1–6 available online for streaming.[27] On 27 August 2013, Acorn Media released the entire series in a seven-disc Blu-ray Disc set. Each disc contains the individual programme, upscaled to 720p HD and converted to 16:9 Widescreen. Bonus material includes a 50-minute behind-the-scenes special, a 23-minute Series 6 behind-the-scenes featurette, a photo gallery and cast filmographies.[28]

The DVD format of the series was released in 2010 by ITV Studios/Global entertainment. It has an overall running time of 1,437 minutes approximately, and encompasses ten discs, with each Series set on one disc except the triple-episode Series 4, which is set over three discs. As with the Blu-ray production, the final disc contains a Behind-the-Scenes of Series 7.


  1. "Masterpiece Theatre: Prime Suspect 1". PBS. Archived from the original on 6 November 2016. Retrieved 10 September 2018 via
  2. Poniewozik, James (6 September 2007). "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time. Archived from the original on 28 October 2007. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
  3. Wittstock, Melinda (8 April 1992). "Confusion becomes the BAFTA prime suspect". The Times. London. p. 1.
  4. Wittstock, Melinda (2 May 1992). "'Fibs' slur incenses BAFTA award judges". The Times. London. p. 18.
  5. "BAFTA Awards Search: Prime Suspect". BAFTA TV Awards. Retrieved 10 September 2018 via
  6. "Awards Search: Prime Suspect". Emmy Awards. Retrieved 10 September 2018 via
  7. "Mystery! Prime Suspect (1993)". Peabody Awards. Retrieved 10 September 2018 via
  8. "Peabody Awards Archives". Retrieved 10 September 2018 via
  9. "Search the Edgars Database: Prime Suspect". Edgar Awards. Retrieved 10 September 2018 via
  10. "Golden Globe Awards for Prime Suspect: The Final Act". Golden Globe Awards. Retrieved 10 September 2018 via
  11. Bianco, Robert (12 June 2006). "Call 911 for TNT's 'Saved'; 'Closer' still beats strong". USA Today. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  12. Bernhard, Brendan (19 June 2007). "Who Needs David Caruso?". The New York Sun. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  13. Boedeker, Hal (25 July 2007). "Kyra Sedgwick: The Closer owes a debt to Prime Suspect, but don't look for 'my idol' Helen Mirren on the show". Orlando Sentinel. Orlando, Florida: Tronc. Archived from the original on 7 September 2015. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
  14. Ulaby, Neda (12 July 2010). "Power Player: Kyra Sedgwick Returns In The Closer". NPR Morning Edition. NPR. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  15. Poniewozik, James (26 July 2007). "Antiheroine Chic". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Archived from the original on 7 March 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  16. Taped interview with Kyra Sedgwick, along with other cast members and creators of The Closer, Archived 17 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  17. Heffernan, Virginia (10 July 2006). "The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick, a Study in Nuance". The New York Times. new York City. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  18. Goodale, Gloria (12 July 2010). "The Closer opened doors for women – and for basic cable". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  19. Stanley, Alessandra (10 November 2006). "Swan Song for a Tough Old Bird". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  20. Hale, Mike (3 September 2010). "A Complete Look at a Complex Character". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
  21. Abele, Robert (23 June 2005). "Wounded Souls". Retrieved 13 June 2014.
  22. Seidman, Robert (6 July 2011). "NBC Announces Fall Premiere Dates – Chuck, Grimm Premiere 21 October; Early Premiere for Parenthood". TV by the Numbers. Archived from the original on 9 July 2011. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  23. Andreeva, Nellie (14 November 2011). "NBC To Give Harry's Law Full-Season Order; Prime Suspect Gone?". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  24. "Prime Suspect prequel sees return of Jane Tennison on ITV". The Guardian. 18 June 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  25. "Tennison cast list: Stefanie Martini to play the young Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect prequel". Radio Times. Retrieved 18 July 2016.
  26. "Prime Suspect 1973 won't return for a second series". Digital Spy. 21 June 2017. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  27. Cruz, Gilbert (1 October 2013). "What's New on Netflix Streaming This Month: October 2013". Retrieved 2 October 2013.
  28. Lambert, David (6 June 2013). "Prime Suspect – Blu-ray Disc Release of the 'Complete Collection' Starring Helen Mirren". Archived from the original on 10 June 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2013.
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