Greetings all and sundry!
Having taken some time from change in the weather cleaning and rearranging of furniture and minor yard improvements. My evenings have been taken up sporadically easing aching muscles while in search of worthwhile or better enterta8inment.
With IFC (Independent Film Channel) and The Sundance Channel being tied up in summer fare. I’ve fallen back on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). Which often excels in finding, importing and disseminating superior series and specials from the United Kingdom.
Doctor Who, Danger: UXB, Brideshead Revisted, The Sandbaggers, Foley’s War and recently, Sherlock and Downton Abbey have been staples of exceptional quality. All have stood well the test of time. No matter their initial longevity. Due to the UK’s innate ability to find an unfamiliar, obscure or forgotten idea or topic. Research the heck out of it. And present it to higher ups for polish, luster and presentation.
With that said. Allow me a few moments of your time to discern and perhaps relish a bit of what the Brits do best.
Superior British Fare: The Bletchley Circle (2012-2013)
Cracking a Killer’s Code.
The story begins in 1952 London.World War II is seven years in the past. Though the economic boom and prosperity enjoyed by the U.S. are distinctly absent along its narrow, cobbled streets and shops doing their best to survive and perhaps, thrive. A weak economy keps rationing in place. Families are pinching shillings and trading them in shops and businesses showing a marked preponderance of women in the workforce, due to lost husbands, lovers and sons during the war.
A war that shortened by between two to five years. Due to the work of many unsung men and women assigned under The Official Secrets Act. To find patterns and create procedures and algorithms feed into captured and manufactured German Enigma machines at Bletchley Park. Breaking their coded messages. And staying one step ahead of the Germans.
Mathematicians. statisticians, geniuses savants and those who have a knack with anagrams and written words. Seeking advantages whenever possible to help discover what’s going on across the Channel in Festung Europa. A tremendous advantage whose secrecy Churchill took extremely seriously. To the point of his not evacuating the city of Coventry and letting the Luftwaffe bomb it than tip his hand. And having an armed Royal Marine with orders to kill any one not authorized to enter the office where Enigma intelligent was collated, read and discussed.
A tremendous responsibility during a time of war. Where the ladies in attendance worked and shared space in one of myriad outbuildings and Nissen huts at Bletchley. Led by Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin). Scots woman, administrator, librarian and den mother by popular demand to Millie (Rachael Stirling). Fluent in German, written and spoken and able to find patterns easily. Jean (Julie Graham), a wizard at organization and delegating tasks. And Lucy (Sophie Rundle), who possesses a photographic memory.
Four women of unique talents who are trying to make the best of life after the war. Unable to talk about their pasts while trying to have or carry on a relationship. About the only one who pull this off is Susan. Who has married. Has a young son and daughter. And a rather boring, slowly rising, lower tier position in the Foreign Office husband, Timothy (Mark Dexter).
Into this day to day. Women are being found brutally defiled and murdered. Sending newspaper sales soaring and frightening the fairer sex throughout London, the Thames and towns near and far. Worried for her children, Susan starts asking around and finds the papers only slightly more useful than the local flying squads and constabulary. Holding whatever “viable” information dear while basically going through the numbers.
Susan takes time from her day to reconnect with Jean. Then Millie. And through several lunch breaks, the women get together under the premise of forming a “Book Club” to keep Timothy in the dark. What few facts have been gathered and laid bare as a spare nursery room is lines with black boards, cork boards and slowly, what seems miles of different colored yard connecting pieces of data, news articles and the like.as clues and a common denominator is sought. Covertly applying what was learned and done years earlier to help find a distinctly bad man.
Body locations are noted and backtracked. Questions are asked of their work and a commonality arises. All rode the Paddington train! A tour of the station is called for and departures and arrivals are noted. Schedules are gathered and late nights are spent crunching numbers to establish time lines. Enough for Susan to go to the local police department to present her collected data.
Only to be ignored up and down the line. Until finding an opening and not taking “no” for an answer. Laying maps and charts out while the Bobbies and Inspectors go through various shades of embarrassment. Taking Susan’s prediction of where to find the next victim with a few grains of damaged ego salts. While only being off by a few hundred yards days later. Though, the ante has been upped. With the woman having been tortured badly before sexual assault.
Sending Susan and the Circle back to comb through the data in search of a mistake. Something overlooked or missing. Shifting the paradigm from the possibility of the perpetrator from a passenger. To an employee!
I’ll close right now to avoid violating the Prime Directive Regarding Spoilers.
Though my narrative may be a bit long. Cracking a Killer’s Code encompasses three near hour long episodes. There is a lot of territory to cover. And this mini-series does it exceptionally well. In set design and dressing. Wardrobe, period surrounding and accessories. Visually, things appear cramped and just a bit shabby indoors. While outdoors discussions, get togethers and picnics appear to occur on those few non rainy days across the isles.
High marks go to an exceptional use of budget inside the Paddington station. In using its maple enclosed bank of schedules and clocks. Digitally altering the outside of the cars of its still operating steam engine train. Though leaving their interiors alone. And for dressing a section of the Bletchley Park museum to fit the WWII 1940s and post war 1950s. Creating feasts for the eyes that enhance sharp, smart dialogue.
The women delivering that dialogue are all at the top of their games. Whether it’s exchanging a ration card for half kilos of butter or meat. Paring down the number of irrelevants in tightening a victim’s timeline. Or trying to get the staid and stuck in the mud local police to listen and accept a new and very different approach to crime solving.
And that is part of the well executed hook. Seeing the very first glimmers of data collection, sifting and collating in establishing time lines and hints of possible “profiles”. Though, without the flash and panache of NUMB3RS. And more of a bare bones approach with paper, pencils, chalk boards and trial and error.
In the hands of women. Not girls. With a bit of wear and tear and ingrained cynicism. With a chain of command already set in place. Led by Susan, who knows all the others weaknesses and strengths. Leading the charge. While wondering what to fix for dinner. And Jean plying her executive and organizational skills in guiding where Millie and Lucy should look.
Yet allowing some flexibility should a new piece of information arise. Since Lucy is meticulous with her memory. And Millie has a knack for finding flaws and subtleties in written data.
All wrapped in nipped in, fashionable attire of that time. Creating an intriguing introduction to a continuing story that deals with the sloppy cover up of Chemical Warfare testing on Britain’s own troops. Susan, her husband and family being sent to India through Timothy’s promotion within the Foreign Office. And Millie dabbles in the Black Market to help make ends meet. Then stumbles into hints of higher priced merchandise, white slavery and human trafficking to close the series out.
Having created and executed a sadly cancelled diversion more than worth the time and effort of seeking out in re-runs, DVD or Blu-Ray.
Check out the PBS trailer below:
Have you seen this series? The floor is now open for discussion.