Brit Fix: ‘The Bletchley Circle’ a Tense, Delicious, Historical Mystery
Do you love War World II era costume dramas, mystery procedurals, Silence of the Lambs, and dramas about the feminist struggle in the post-war west? THEN DOES ITV HAVE A SHOW FOR YOU. It’s called the Bletchley Circle, and it’s a three part mini-series starring Anna Maxwell Martin and the husky-voiced Rachel Stirling. (Next podcast I will do my impression and you will be entertained, or I will be forced to bellow “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” In my best Rachel Stirling voice and it will be just officially too much, m’kay?) You know Martin from her turn as Esther in Bleak House, and Stirling from EVERYTHING – okay, to be specific, you might know her from her turn (giggity) as Nancy in Tipping the Velvet.
Martin and Stirling play Susan and Millie, and are joined by Julie Graham and Sophie Rundell and together they form - the Bletchley circle, an unwilling gaggle of strategic and theoretical genius who were responsible for busting German codes in WWII at Bletchley Park, and who now spend their time stalking down a murderous sexual sadist. IT IS THE BEST YOU GUYS. Not only have I quietly decided That Anna Maxwell Martin is a definite contender in the role of Mary Russell should Laurie R. King’s books ever be made into films (Why haven’t they? I mean I kind of know, but why not?) but she is an absolute revelation in the role.
While the shows bones are, in effect, the average meat of the British mystery (nothing to sniff at, mind) its heart lies with Susan. The most we see of the women in their Bletchley park days is in the opening sequence of the first episodes of the series. It is enough to know that Susan, just a handful of years after the war, and well-ensconced in the suburbs with her vet husband and two small children, is looking for a sense of usefulness and an outlet for her keen analytical mind.
She has fallen out of touch with her Bletchley cohort, and the only time she puts her mind to any challenging use as she did in the days of the war, is when she solves the daily crossword puzzle, or takes notes on the latest in a series of serial murders she’s been keeping tabs on via the wireless, keeping notes on the back of her vanity mirror. When a news report indicates to Susan that a body has gone missing, she goes to the chief of police, and when not taken seriously, to her old friend Millie in an effort to stop the man before he kills again.
Eventually, the entire circle of girls from the Bletchley park days are coerced into assisting Susan, and what follows is a riveting, harrowing journey to catch a killer. The show is at it’s strongest when it pulls from the lives of the women solving the crime – Susan’s contentious relationship with her husband who just wants her to be a happy homemaker, Millie’s tough economic circumstances having chosen to live as a free woman, Lucy’s abusive husband and Jean’s….well frankly Jean seems fine, if a little bored and uptight – but every group needs a mother hen or something, right? When the women get too close to the killer – and to the crime itself – it’s touching and it’s real, I laughed aloud at them being all “There is a body…do we…we need the police guys!” moment, additionally their early attempts to catch the man are dangerous and terrifying and probably pretty close to what would happen should an amateur attempt to catch a killer relying solely on the power of uh, math.
While the killer himself is a bit of a let down in the final moments, his psychosis and his intelligence are riveting – until he pulls his Bond-Villain-esque “NOW LET ME TELL YOU MY PLAN” bit, which is tiresome. But it in no one detracts from the general feel of LA AWESOME that permeates the rest of the series. I want Bletchley series two! I adore the double-life Susan has to live, crime solving and family care-takin’ and would love to see how that develops and shifts under the stress of future cases.