TV review: Geordie noir is nice enough in Vera
- Credit: ITV
There was a party game that was in favour when I was young by which I mean young enough to go home with a goodie bag rather than young enough to go to A&E with someone who had misjudged the amount of spirits they could drink in one sitting.
The Mars Bar Game involved fun-lovers sitting in a circle and rolling a dice until you got a six, at which point the successful roller would race to the centre of the circle where there would be a pile of mismatched old clothes – including hat, scarf and gloves – a plate, cutlery and an unwrapped Mars Bar. The object was to put on all the clothes and cut a piece of the chocolate to eat before the next person rolled a six.
DCI Vera Stanhope looks as if she is frozen in the middle of the Mars Bar Game at the stage where she's thrown on the clothes. She is the Russian doll of British detecting, a woman you would dread coming up against in strip poker. Vera is like a Northumbrian onion: multi-layered.
To be fair to Vera (Brenda Blethyn), she is working in the north east. I finished my journalism training in Newcastle and it was the coldest place I have ever lived: I was a box of matches away from re-enacting Hans Christian Andersen's famous story about the death of hope every time I walked home from work to my (unheated) flat.
But, as ever, I digress. My point was that Vera looks like she got dressed in the dark in the murderer's costume from I Know What You Did Last Summer, but she lives in Northumberland, so she probably did: it's practically Iceland and she
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Back for a seventh series, each episode is a luxurious two-hours long, meaning that there's time for viewers to be led down all manner of procedural cul de sacs before Vera's det-nav leads us to our final destination, which was a genuine surprise and justified the time commitment. But it was a close run thing and it did drag at points.
Readers, there may be spoilers (at least one or two always write in, surprised that a review of a programme might involve talking about what happened in said programme) so continue with caution if you haven't watched it yet, although if you do, at least you'll be able to skip the six (six!) ad breaks which I watched so that you didn't have to.
The action began in what Americans like to think is a typical British pub, in other words one where men wearing chunky fishermens' jumpers sing shanties and everyone is warmed by flagons of ale and roasting peat on an open fire. Across the water, the sea lapped at the shore of an island nature reserve called Ternstone in the series but called 'one of the Farne Islands' by the rest of us, gently worrying a corpse on the beach, and not that of a deceased puffin. No puffins were harmed in the making of Vera.
Gemma wasn't a puffin, but she was a wildlife ranger who worked on the island. She stayed on Ternstone while her colleagues and fellow beach-bird botherers went to the pub for a leaving do – proof that nurture beats nature hands down (when it comes to going to the pub).
Vera turned up looking like an ambulatory haystack, for which I thank her on behalf of all women, and swiftly ascertained with the seasick pathologist that wor Gemma had been drowned in fresh water, propped up in an observation hut so that it looked like she was still alive when her fiancé passed in his boat and later dragged to the shore where the North Sea washed away any pesky murderer DNA.
Absolutely everyone was a suspect, from Ryan the fiancé (Gemma had
had affairs) to the parents of a former ranger who thought Gemma had lied at an inquest about his untimely death-by-rock-climbing, to the chap she'd had an affair with to an old school friend's dad to another ranger – practically the only person who isn't taken in for questioning is Vera herself.
I remember reading once that the Danish prefer gentle crime dramas like Midsomer Murders and Vera to their own tense and atmospheric Scandi-noir (the head of the Dane's biggest channel, Kaare Schmidt, once saying: 'You have a good feeling when you watch it and if you fall asleep it's fine…you'll never remember who did it anyway') because you get all the lovely scenery without any of the brain-bashing complexity.
And that sums up Vera, who calls everyone 'pet' and 'love' and makes her second-in-command a pasta bake because he's getting grief from his other half about working too much and having trouble sleeping thanks to his new bairn. Can you imagine Sarah Lund making anyone a pasta bake? She doesn't even say goodbye when she puts down the phone.
The cases are mildly diverting and there are some genuinely engaging moments when our heroine puts two and two together and makes a whole (moon) which leads her on a last-minute farm dash which involves some puffin' on Vera's behalf, a false confession and a moral lesson for school bullies. In short, it's quite nice. Which probably isn't a compelling enough reason to tune in next week.