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The Bletchley Circle (2012)

The Bletchley Circle

When the masterful 2005 version of Bleak House premiered on Masterpiece Theatre, we were all introduced to the talents of Anna Maxwell Martin. She starred as the orphaned, ill-treated Esther who finally found purpose at Bleak House before going on to star in a number of smaller roles. Now she has been restored as a leading lady, and she does it all rather marvelously in this three-part mini-series. 

Ordinary is not a word one could ascribe to Susan (Martin). She loves puzzles and cannot seem to shut off her brain no matter how hard she tries. Where there’s a riddle, she must follow. Some nine years after WWII, Susan is living simply, an ordinary life with two children and a husband whose career is on the brink of brilliant success. As a code-cracker during the war, Susan was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement and has kept her work a secret, but now there have been a string of horrible murders and by powers of deduction, she’s come up with information that could aid the police in their investigations.

When the information turns out to produce no results, Susan reaches out to her former colleagues. Lucy (Sophie Rundle), Millie (Rachel Stirling) and Jean (Julie Graham), all of whom are living lives much akin to Susan. Lucy is involved in an unhealthy relationship, and Millie is hurt by Susan’s dismissal of their friendship, having once promised her that she’d never allow Susan to be “ordinary.”  

Skeptical to hear out Susan’s plans, the girls eventually band together, knowing there is more to Susan’s patterns than anyone is willing to notice. They use their training and any resources they can find to follow the serial killer’s path. Clues that may lead them right to his doorstep – and possibly endanger their own lives.  

One day during my on-line browsing, I happened upon this series and was drawn to it for a pair of reasons. For obvious reasons, the first was its leading lady and then I became interested after references were made to the brilliant Foyle’s War in other’s reviews. To judge the series by that original Anthony Horowitz penned script may not be fair, but it certainly has similarities while holding its own, proving that it is just as exciting, clever and addicting in ways that are unique to its own style. The only flaw in the otherwise spotless scripting is that the series spans a mere three one-hour episode run and there have been no plans to produce more. That is enough to earn a sad face from me.  

Restricting my thoughts to only this genre, I am not sure that since Foyle’s War, I’ve met a cast of such fabulous characterizations. It was more fun than I expected to follow these women as they deduced and sought clues to put away a murderer and try to convince the police of their findings in the meantime. Like her prior roles, Anna Maxwell Martin was a fantastic leading lady. She manages to play each character with a quiet grace and the role of Susan is no different. She’s compassionate and yet elicits sympathy from us for her apparent inability to calm her busy mind and desire to want to do something that matters. What she doesn’t realize is that to her children, just being their “mummy” is enough. Her personality doesn’t let her enjoy normalcy and yet, we don’t doubt that she loves her family. Behind the apparent, she’s an interesting character and one that could have been written even more complicated should producers ever see the merit in making the premise a serial. Each of the women has a specialty in their field which makes it easy to distinguish who plays what role in their crime-solving “book club.”  

Though the audience had more to go on than some mysteries, I was impressed how well writer’s strung along the viewers with clues. More is revealed than we might expect before the end but it did not detract from the thrill of the chase or seeing the killer brought to justice. There was excitement and danger in the course of one scene and it felt like an enigma that deserved more than an hour to solve. As a story, ‘Circle’ works well, but there are a few places that it lags in pacing though during its majority, three hours was filled nicely and never seemed to fall into being boring or come across as time used poorly in the capacity of a premise that is all too often abused. Filming and staging is equally impressive building suspense when it should and displaying character’s lighter sides when the time is right. Unfortunately, The Bletchley Circle is not all “good.” The premise may be written with precision but in all honesty, it travels down some dark places. The criminal mastermind is not a pleasant place to be yet this British (ITV) produced show has found a compatible balance much like predecessors have. Even in the middle of thoughtless crimes, the characters are not forgotten and they make it jolly good fun.  

(Parental concerns: One victim is seen screaming, tied up and later, when discovered, her clothing is in disarray as she lies bloody and lifeless. Conversation reveals how victims are murdered [they are murdered and then raped] and Lucy is nearly assaulted once on a train before she manages to escape; her captor tosses her around and roughly kisses her, leaving her body bruised. A man agrees to a favor in exchange for sex but it refused. Provocative sex crime cards are glimpsed in two or three shots. Spousal abuse is also present. A man is shot multiple times. The rating is TV14.)
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  1. I'm really intrigued!! But what a huge bummer it's not coming to the US!! Where did you find these, gral?

    1. This was quite good, Kellie. There were moments when the "darkness" was almost depressing but if you liked Foyle's War then this is worth looking into.

      As far as I can find out, there are no plans to air this in the U.S. right now. However, it is on DVD in the U.K., and my player now plays region 2 discs so the set was something I ordered as a "Christmas gift" of sorts for the family. It's fun to spoil one's shelf every now and then. :)

    2. Region 2 players, now that is something I seriously considered while waiting MONTHS for Robin Hood Season 3, but never did get. Eventually maybe I'll give in ;) It's a shame some shows never make it this side of the pond.

    3. Heavens! I know just how you feel, Camille. For me, it was 'Lark Rise' that I felt I waited forever to get my hands on. Most British series do show up here at some point but those that have no promise of appearing... sometimes those tempt me a bit too much. :D

    4. I just watched this on Netflix. What a wonderful mini series!

  2. I'm looking forward to watching this so much. Just two episodes of the current series I'm watching (Wartime Farm) and then it's Bletchley Circle's turn to appear on my screen! But, for some reason I had thought it would take place closer to WWII and not in the mid-50s. It's not a big deal, but I just love the 40s in general as a time for movies and books.

    1. Hmmm... I've not heard of the series you are watching, Birdienl! Sounds like it's worth looking into though. :)

      My mother and I really liked this series. In fact, we're hoping that filmmakers wise up and produce some more since this is a mere three episodes. Hope you enjoy - stop by with your thoughts once you see it. :)

    2. Wartime Farm is the last in a series of historical reality series produced by the BBC. First there were Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm. In each of these series, a team of two archeologists and a historian (Peter, Alex and Ruth), try to recreate a year in the live of a farmer from a certain period (17th century, 19th century, early 20th century, WWII). It's very interesting, but also very enjoyable watching. The team is great, they are terribly funny, but also very knowledgeable. It is non-fiction, but it doesn't feel 'hard' to watch at all. Absolutely recommended, all four series!

    3. Thanks for sharing that, Birdienl!

      I did check it out briefly on Amazon and found all those other titles you mentioned. If you like historical things, this would be a series you'd want to look into as those time periods would all prove very interesting. :)

  3. So I finally watched this!! I really liked it! I thought it was a brilliant concept and well played out!

    What I DIDN'T like about it though, was how Susan (main character) never did tell her husband what was going on. She really should have told him, secrets act or not, especially as he and the children were in major danger and didn't even know it. He obviously loved her, but she treated him like he was insignificant. So, I felt really let down at the end when it ended with her NOT coming clean with him.

    But overall, I really liked it and am anticipating the next season!

    1. YAY! Glad you had opportunity to see it, Kellie.

      Seeing Susan keep so much from a husband who (yes!) did seem to genuinely care about her was hard. I wanted her to confide in him also. That being said, it was sad to see this end because at first there were no plans to have a second series - that has since changed. Thank goodness for those second series' - now perhaps the character's will have a chance to grow.

      My mom and I both thought this was wonderfully done also - but then as fans of Foyle's War and Marple, that was inevitable. ;)

    2. Would you have felt the same way if the main character had been a man? We often respect men for their honor, but somehow feel a woman shouldn't be held to the same standard. She honored her agreement with her country.

  4. Going to share this @

    1. Thank you so much, Lara! That's very nice of you. :)


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