After a weak fourth series, ITV’s premier northern detective has returned in an episode that is slightly better, but still lacks the magic of the first three series. Vera stars Brenda Blethyn as the wry titular investigator in stunning North Eastern surroundings. Vera storms into each scene with a floppy hat and coat with a dialogue that neatly blends wit and plot development. This opening episode of series five introduced us to DS Aiden Healey (Kenny Doughty) who replaces fan favourite DS Joe Ashworth who’s got a promotion (plot talk for the actor leaving the show). Although we didn’t get to see much of him, it seems Healey will neatly fit into the place vacated by Ashworth.
The episode started very well, with a fire at a caravan park shortly after a stag party had taken place. The usual hidden love affairs, lies and illegal drug growth then followed. Last Tango in Halifax’s Katherine Rose Morley, Wayne Foskett and Katie Brayben were all well cast as some of the suspects. Despite their undeniable talents, Blethyn steals every scene that she is in. It remains very rare to see an actor so clearly embody a role, to make a character utterly believable. She can make a rather dry aside come to life with just a glance, which is what makes Vera so watchable. The character originated in a series of books, and their author, Ann Cleeves, says she now writes with Blethyn’s voice in mind, such is the power of her performance.
Martha Hillier’s script was ok, but that’s all. There was little spark in the plot development and, apart from an awkwardly shot suicide attempt, very little excitement. Critics mocked Poirot and Foyle’s War for their slow approach to plotting, but the past few episodes of Vera have lacked their intricate plots and interesting characters to make it worthwhile. In this episode, Vera went from one rather bland character to another, from one interview scene to another, and after eighty five minutes a snippet of conversation solved the case. Vera doesn’t have to be like this; several earlier episodes were much better structured with the occasional fun set piece, which was sadly lacking in ‘Changing Tides’.
However, Vera remains well worth investing your time in. The cinematography is beautiful; the opening scene could have come out of any feature film, with atmospheric lightning across the North Sea foreshadowing the danger yet to come. The casting is very good, if you excuse one or two “interesting” interpretations of a northern accent. Despite my earlier criticisms, even the plot is rather fun; if only to play the “who-dunnit” game with whoever else is watching. It’s good to have Vera (and her hat) back on ITV, I just hope the scripts will rise to the high standards of the rest of the production over the course of the series. It was rather bland, but with the promise of greatness.