Can Maria Bello’s Jane Timoney Compare to “Prime Suspect” Original?

Before her Oscar winning turn in “The Queen” Helen Mirren wowed U.K. audiences in the 1990’s as Jane Tennison in “Prime Suspect,” a British procedural drama (and best selling book series) written by Lynda La Plante. Centered around a female detective who fought to solve the cases of brutal murders, as well as the rampant sexism within her own police force. Mirren toldPBS that the character of Tennison, “was unlike any other female role on TV at the time” and how that had a lot to do with the writer. La Plante advised Mirren, “don’t smile too much or try to charm people – that’s not Jane. She doesn’t work that way.” It was a groundbreaking and subtle performance that won Mirren the BAFTA. Publish Date: 09/17/2011

Now 15 years later NBC is hoping that the “Prime Suspect” name will resonate with American audiences, in fact in many ways they are banking on it. Aware that perhaps Mirren’s was too hard an act to follow, the network has decided to go a slightly different route – by merely basing the U.S. version on the original. The creative team behind it includes Peter Berg, the director of “Battleship” and “Friday Night Lights” who described it to Deadline’s Diane Haithman as more of a “re-invention.”

For one the character’s name will now be Jane Timoney and England has become New York city instead. Maria Bello is more than up to the task of playing the gritty new lead, with an impressive resume that includes the films “Abduction,” “A History of Violence,””The Jane Austen Book Club” and indie favorite “Beautiful Boy.”

From all the promos one of the biggest differences will be the leading lady’s character, which is what the whole show’s success hinges on. Today’s Jane Timoney is eccentric, brash and wears signature hats, Tennison was a deeply flawed and (at times) unlikeable woman, who smoked way too much and basically was an alcoholic. Most of Tennison’s battles were back-stabbing office politics and psychological warfare in the interrogation room, where as Timoney is a tough-as-nails cop, who chases her suspects on foot and punches like a man. Apart from the title, the only similarity to the original seems to be the unabashed sexism within the police force. Which in the politically correct climate of 2011, seems slightly dated and forced.

Whether the network executives like it or not, audiences who remember (or have PBS) the critically acclaimed U.K. drama will compare the two. It remains to be seen whether the American “Prime Suspect” will have Detective Jane Timoney more resembling a modern Christine Cagney (of “Cagney & Lacey” fame), then any character Lynda La Plante ever imagined.

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