The very definition of “woman power,” the 3-part mini-series mystery ABOVE SUSPICION: SILENT SCREAM (now on DVD from Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment), written, produced and directed by some of the strongest female voices in British TV, is a breathless take-no-prisoners thriller.
The third series in a wildly popular gritty look at contemporary London police detection, ABOVE SUSPICION has never (to my knowledge) aired here in the U.S., so I was therefore unfamiliar with the main characters and their complicated inter-relationships. While it would be a helpful narrative sidebar to SERIES 3, it isn’t a necessary one. The tight, brutal, snarling scenario stands on its own. I WAS, however, quite familiar with the show’s creator/executive producer/writer – the remarkable Lynda La Plante (adapting SILENT SCREAM from her novel of the same name), whose classic sleuth Jane Tennison in the Prime Suspect series made Helen Mirren a household name in America.
What made Prime Suspect so great (besides its star) were the unrelenting “I’m not in the mood” attitudes of its protagonist and her overworked staff. This is apparently a La Plante prerequisite, as it permeates every frame of this 140-minute action and suspense drama.
The leads are terrific: Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds portrays craggy DCS James Langton, an incorruptible veteran waiting for a deserved upgrade. A perfect male counterpart to DCI Tennison, Langton is surly with a borderline tinderbox persona that dangerously threatens to explode upon the next suspect’s lie or an interoffice red tape screw-up. This behavior isn’t helped by the fact that the aging detective has been passed over for his long-awaited promotion. Add to the mix that the officer chosen is much younger, less experienced (though capable) and black (the excellent Ray Fearon). Uh-oh. To Langton’s credit, he understands the choice, but refuses to accept it, and his natural hostility to his one-time friend (I’m assuming this, as I haven’t been privy to the first two series) is only further enraged when his new superior deals HIM the race card. It’s a wonderful scene (one of many) when Hinds and Fearon butt heads with an almost tearful response from the wronged DCS shaming the man for crying ethnic prejudice. “You know me better than that.” An embarrassed Fearon (with the dynamic name of Sam Power) relents, and apologizes. It’s tough stuff, real stuff – so way beyond the network BS pap we’re shoveled here every TV season.
Langton soon realizes that he has been the victim of an in-house smear campaign – and from someone under his command. Overloading this dude’s already full psychological plate with a side of paranoia is really not the way to go. And it gets worse and more tense for all concerned, save the lucky discriminating crime fan viewers, who I suspect will eat up each vitriolic morsel with snarky delight.
Langton’s second in charge is DI Anna Travis, whose presence concurrently exudes authority and sexuality. As superbly played by Kelly Reilly, Travis is a reasonably composed contradictory portrait of a woman in control intentionally suppressing her natural beauty with a vengeance. Reilly’s eyes alone are enough to stop traffic. They’re like two beautifully formed diamonds of ice (if it wasn’t for the fact that Reilly’s such a good actress, I probably wouldn’t have been…well, taking my eyes off them). They’re the kind of peepers that I imagine would have made Elizabeth Taylor likely gasp, “Holy crap!” It’s also obvious that she’s ferociously attracted to Langton (essentially an older male version of herself); and it’s reciprocal. But the case comes first – and it’s a doozy.
The show opens with a ravishing young woman in peril being stalked in Victorian England. Of course, before one can say “Jack the Ripper,” it’s revealed to be a movie set. The fatal femme is the country’s newest and most sensational flavor of the month, Amanda Delaney (Joanna Vanderham), an actress/starlet more renowned for her private sex life than her thespian endeavors. Or in Brit-TV terms, more downstairs than upstairs. That she is soon found murdered in a way horrifically surpassing her celluloid demise becomes the talk of the UK. And the mess is dumped into Langton’s and Travis’ respective laps.
Natch, this opens the floodgates for a plethora of amazing British actors and actresses who parade through the sanguine proceedings with great panache, to say nothing of varying sizes of bloody footprints.
Even by skank standards, Delaney’s past was enough to gag a boatload of reality stars (note how I’m refraining from mentioning the name “Kardashian” because…DAMN IT!). Suffice to say, she took spotted dick to the ultimate dessert level, and no penis (married or not) in the greater London area was safe. She had the hugest lovers, the hugest abortions, did the hugest amount of drugs and got off by extracting the hugest revenge; Amanda Delaney is Donald Trump sans his modesty. Not surprisingly, being this huge means one has the largest number of enemies, so Hinds’s and Travis’s suspect list is epic.
This is where the fun begins. Former costars, their wives, directors, writers, producers are all brought into the fray; ditto her Duggar-esque parents, staff, drug dealers, a rapacious ex-con chauffeur, Delaney’s thieving, embezzling agent and, obviously the star’s closest “friends,” the latter comprising a trio of whacked, slimy heroin-addicted millennial hippies. This trio, particularly the two women, comprise the most interesting human specimens in SILENT SCREAM‘s cast. Jeannie Bale (Kate O’Flynn) is a vicious, violent, roaring psychopath when “straight,” but pump a few grams of…well, anything…into her and Jeannie’s former state is vintage Dakota Fanning by comparison. Bale’s weakling stoner “sister” is a pathetic total sleaze, a performance made all the more jaw-dropping when one realizes that it’s enacted by Call the Midwife’s angelic Sister Mary Cynthia, Bryony Hannah.
But why kill the goose laying everyone’s golden eggs – and just about everything else? It’s the discovery of a now-vanished lust-fueled diary that Delaney was about to publish. Okay, time to add pissed-off publishers to the roster of possible killers.
The “tough stuff” in SILENT SCREAM is about as raw as it gets. If you think two women fighting is cute (raging from bitch-slap to cat fight), you ain’t seen nothing yet. A nightmarish all-out attack by O’Flynn on Reilly would have Sam Peckinpah running for cover.
There’s a fantastic cross-examination in a precinct interview room scene that defines top-drawer acting. Langton is questioning an (what else?) angered Bale, who, among other things was furious at her late pal for stealing the career she delusionally assumed should have been hers. There’s no dialog, but via pure facial expressions, one sees Langton’s anguish and then “oh, crap!” realization that this maniac’s demeanor is virtually no different than his (regarding the promotion loss). It’s my favorite of many moments. Kudos to both author La Plante and director Catherine Morshead.
The DVD of ABOVE SUSPICION: SILENT SCREAM is up to the usual excellent Acorn standards: sharp widescreen visuals, saturated in cool colors and buttressed by a vibrant stereo soundtrack (for which composed Simon Lacey has fashioned an appropriate score). Further congrats in order for d.p. Damian Bromley.
If you’re like me and refuse to even submit yourself to bubblegum sleuthing of the phony Elementary, Scorpion, blah-blah-blah ilk, I heartily suggest you seek out this fine slice of grown-up fare. Like the Lou Reed song goes, “Come on, take a walk on the wild side.”
ABOVE SUSPICION: SILENT SCREAM. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]. 2.0 stereo-surround audio. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment. CAT #AMP-2132. SRP: $29.99.