Ann Cleeves Trifecta VERA, Shetland, & The Long Call on BritBox Streaming

Jan 29, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Kathleen Costa, Mysteryrat's Maze, TV

by Kathleen Costa

BritBox offers many programs that are actually based on novels which has sparked my interest in engaging with the author’s original vision of the characters, the setting, and the plot. From Robert Thorogood’s Death in Paradise to James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small from Ellis Peter’s Cadfael Mysteries to Georges Simenon’s Maigret from Nicholas Rhea’s Constable series (Heartbeat) and of course, not to mention all things Agatha Christie to Shakespeare, BritBox brings to the screen an excellent cast, beautiful settings, and stories that have you coming back for more…more is checking out the books! One author whose work is iconic in any form is Ann Cleeves.

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves recently received her OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) “for services to Reading and Libraries” making her very special indeed. She created the popular elderly birdwatcher George Palmer-Jones and his wife Molly (1986) and Inspector Ramsey (1990), but it’s her iconic literary figures turned television stars Vera Stanhope (VERA), Jimmy Perez (Shetland), and, now, Matthew Venn (The Long Call) that have made her a household name worldwide. Complex mysteries, “bucket list” settings, realistic predicaments, and brilliant characters are key to her popularity.

Covid lockdowns and protocols had productions on tenterhooks not knowing if there’d be an outbreak among the cast and crew, additional government mandates, or another vaccine, booster, or variant to deal with, so new 2021 episodes were, thankfully, only delayed. But they’re back…VERA, Shetland, and a new one, The Long Call!

VERA was brought to life on the small screen in May of 2011 with Brenda Blethyn making the roll of DCI Vera Stanhope hers and hers alone, set in the varied landscape in Northumberland, northeast England, exploring complex issues that result in homicide. Season eleven (2021) had its complications, but after successfully navigating Covid lockdowns and protocols, two episodes aired in September and the last two episodes have just now been added to the BritBox library…the relief of eager fans could be heard all over the world!

Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn), donning her trench coat and green floppy hat and driving her well-used Land Rover, is again joined by Detective Sergeant Aiden Healy (Kenny Doughty), DC Kenny Lockhart (Jon Morrison), and DC Jacqueline “Jac” Williams (Ibinabo Jack), and Northumberland is still riddled with secrets, jealousy, greed, and revenge that lead to murder. In “Witness” (2021), the team investigates the murder of a prosecution witness due in court on an assault case, but a closer look reveals secret connections and a plethora of dysfunctional families. In “Recovery,” a supposedly respected addiction support worker is found dead in the national park, and the team focuses on her work with rehab clients, park employees, and more than one estranged family. In “Tyger Tyger,” a custom’s check, runaway lorry, and hit and run resulting in a death lead the team to a smuggling scheme and a missing teen, a crime family and more dysfunction, but Vera’s decisions during the case may cost her her job. In “As the Crow Flies,” the death of a primary school teacher is first thought a tragic accident, but evidence casts doubt with a suspension at work, CP referral, and, wait for it, more dysfunctional relationships. This season’s four dramas had plenty of complex avenues to explore with clever details, plenty who have issues with the truth, the occasional cheeky banter with Dr. Malcolm Donahue (Paul Kaye), and always a shocking arrest! Earns 5+/5 Floppy Hats…Brilliant Cast & Clever Dramas!

Shetland burst onto the scene in March of 2013 with the brilliant Douglas Henshaw as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez stationed on the Scottish archipelago of Shetland with his team Detective Sergeant Alison “Tosh” Macintosh (Alison O’Donnell) and Detective Constable Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson). Perez, while attending his mother’s funeral, gets news of the murder of a local well-respected lawyer who is also the husband of an MP candidate. The investigation brings up many of the victim’s cases from the compassionate release of a murderer returning to Shetland to a drug addict who lost her kids, from a childhood friend he refused to represent to his search for a client’s daughter estranged for over twenty years. This puts on the radar a true crime blogger, local drug dealers, war crimes investigation, blackmail, adultery, harassment, and more murder. Emotional. Complex. Just another day on Shetland.

This season’s six episodes were riveting and complex, each revealing more and more about the characters, personally and professionally, along with the ever-expanding crime. The final episode reveals the impetus of the initial murders bringing about a shocking arrest. The convicted murderer, brought back to the community on compassionate grounds, has stage four cancer and is a storyline first explored in season four (2018) that entangled, then and now, Perez’s close friend Duncan Hunter (Mark Bonnar), but this creates a shocking cliffhanger on which season seven will focus. Perez continues to be portrayed as introspective, compassionate, yet having by the book convictions, and his own loss affords him sympathy for others who suffer from losing loved ones and cope in varying ways. He is, however, struggling with his recently widowed father whose memory decline is problematic and causes serious concerns as Perez is not one to ask for help, even when it’s offered, since he thinks he can handle the situation on his own. This illustrates his “I’ll figure it out” attitude which is a good quality for a driven cop, but not so much for a son, a father, or a friend. DS “Tosh” continues to be a favorite with a strong character and back-up for Perez, and surprisingly this character is not in the books. She is intelligent, offers her own ideas, and is key to one avenue of interest that Perez initially dismissed, but she has her own cliffhanger revelation needing to be resolved in a season seven. The Scottish accents are always a favorite, yet sometimes I need to refer to the closed-captioning option. Although the stark, barren environment and isolation adds to the intensity of the homicides, it is in opposition to the closeness of the community. Big favorite. Earns 5+/5 Conspiracies…Excellent Cast & Compelling Drama!

Photographer: Mark Mainz

The Long Call, referring to the cry of a herring gull that resembles “an inarticulate howl of pain,” is based on Cleeves’ first book of the same name in her Two Rivers series introducing Detective Inspector Matthew Venn (Ben Aldridge). Six months ago, Matthew returned to Devon, southwest England, to reconcile with his father in hospice care. At the funeral, he finds he’s not welcome and his mother Dorothy (Juliet Stevenson) is not happy about his behind her back visits. Venn has long been estranged from Barum Brethren, the strict evangelical community in which he grew up. He’d been dismissed by church elder Dennis Stephenson (Martin Shaw; Inspector George Gently) in part due to his rejection of their beliefs, but also because of his sexual orientation. Now married to Jonathon Roberts (Declan Bennett), he responds to his mother’s past rejection, “Better no son than a, than a gay one.” But, slowly the honesty and openness allows for a tenuous, yet bumpy road toward common ground.

Venn is the lead DI and joined by single mom DS Jen Rafferty (Pearl Mackie) and DC Ross Pritchard (Dylan Edwards) in the murder investigation of a forty-year-old man ironically with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck. The victim Simon Walton turns out to be Simon Walden, a man who, four years earlier, was convicted of killing a ten-year-old girl in a traffic accident in which he’d been drunk. His early release angered the child’s father, but more is revealed with Simon’s volunteering at the local Woodyard Day Centre, befriending a young Down syndrome woman, and attending a Brethren church meeting. Further complications include a kidnapping, missing two-hundred grand, and a hidden non-disclosure agreement. Nothing is as it seems.

The four episodes pivot around one initial murder and in true Ann Cleeves form, they are clever, compelling, and complex. At the outset, the murder investigation leads to the Woodyard Day Centre, its volunteers and young participants, but it only opens a can of worms with more secrets revealed, more perpetrators uncovered, and more victims needing justice. A shocking conclusion leads to arrests, but a question is raised about whether there are any winners…maybe, mostly. The ending scenes give hope. Matthew’s return home causes him to confront his own past, his efforts to reconcile with his mother, and the shame he still feels about who he is. His vulnerability is powerful, but his husband Jonathon is his anchor giving Matthew the support he needs. Earns 5/5 Tattoos…Engaging Drama & New Favorite!

The Inspiration Behind These Series…Amazon Links
Vera Stanhope (10 book series)
Shetland (8 book series)
The Two Rivers (2 book series)
Ann Cleeves Work

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. A new episode went up last week.

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is a 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying her retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband.

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