Vera, series 7, episode 1: Brenda Blethyn remains the reason to watch this crime drama: review

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On the lookout: Brenda Blethyn as DCI Vera Stanhope
On the lookout: Brenda Blethyn as DCI Vera Stanhope Credit: ITV

Once a detective series gets its feet under the table, it’s quite hard to dislodge. Everyone’s looking for the next Morse or Midsomer Murders, which is why series can hang around for years without ever quite capturing that elusive something. It’s difficult to imagine anyone nominating Vera (ITV) as their favourite ever crime show, but here it is, back for a seventh series with  Brenda Blethyn still wearing that old mac and rainhat as DCI Vera Stanhope.

Based on the novels of Ann Cleeves, it is, of course, a necessary part of the landscape, being a double rarity: its sleuth is a woman, and not a boringly young looker either; and it’s set in the North East, to whose beautiful landscape TV drama is an all too infrequent visitor.

Kenny Doughty and Brenda Blethyn Credit: ITV

Two birds, one stone then. But may one gently suggest that Vera is, at best, middling. This opener, the first of four two-hour films, was called Natural Selection for reasons not made clear by a plot in which a young woman was found washed up on an island bird sanctuary – the so-called “Galapagos of the North” making a craggy cameo.

There were plenty of potential culprits whose motives were ticked off with dogged thoroughness. A drug operation was unearthed, as was a lot of guilt about a covered-up accident, before the truth limped into the light. The father attempting to take the rap for the daughter was exactly the same denouement as last year’s riveting French drama The Disappearance.

Brenda Blethyn and Kenny Doughty Credit: ITV

The problem with Vera is that absolutely everyone seems like an actor putting another entry on their CV. No one, either under suspicion or in the incident room, looks or sounds like a Geordie, or even like a vaguely fleshed-out character. They’re all grids on a plot map. Even the pathologist, usually a wag with a mordant sense of humour in these things, is a charisma vacuum.

The only reason to watch Vera is Blethyn, who wears the character like that old coat: a collection of mumsy tics and sceptical squeaks. She’s a consummate pro, but she could probably get away with phoning it in. Vera’s sidekick (played by Kenny Doughty) has a baby at home who won’t sleep. The little bairn could do worse than tune in to this series.

 

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