Domestic Detectives (Series Review: “The Bletchley Circle”)

A crackerjack group of British women band together shortly after WWII to solve a serial murder case in London, bringing their special skills set as wartime code-breakers to the case in the riveting 3-part series, The Bletchley Circle.

SnapShot Plot

It’s 1952 post-war London and four unassuming British women have made new lives for themselves after serving at the real-life Bletchley Park code-breaking center during World War II.  There’s Susan, the pattern recognition analyst, Millie the mathematician, Jean who assembled top level information, and young Lucy, whose photographic memory could put IBM’s Watson to shame.  Although quite the cohort during the War, when our story begins nine years later, it’s clear the women haven’t laid eyes on each other since.  Susan, a plain and serious housewife (in a fine performance by Anna Maxwell Martin) is married to a dull but decent man who has no idea what his wife did in the War.  As she hears the news of yet another young woman brutally murdered, Susan’s brilliant mind begins to perceive a pattern in the killings until she’s convinced she must do something.  So she gets in contact with the other women, who agree to work together and so they begin to tackle the murders as if they were one extenuated code problem.  To say they’re walking into a lion’s den of danger would be an understatement, especially given the fact that the police have dismissed their efforts to help with the case. Strong performances and excellent writing abound in this smart thriller, and the killer is sufficiently creepy to turn you off to rail travel for a good long while!

 

Parting Shot

It’s refreshing in a way to see what intelligence work and criminal investigating were like in the days before high-speed computers with intelligent software and algorithms, cell phones with GPS triangulation, and massive criminal databases.

bletchley_archive image

Women typists at Britain’s code-breaking centre Bletchley Park

In fact, there were several scenes in which I thought, “Wow, she’s actually going into that building with no cell phone and nobody knows she’s there!”  Or, “Geez, poor Lucy’s actually memorizing the entire London train schedule…where’s Google when you need it?” Or when the women are analyzing a map and Susan takes Millie’s red lipstick (was there only one shade of Red in the 50’s?) to highlight the killer’s suspected route.  Aside from some heavy-handed Feminist moralizing via scenes of stifling and abusive marriages or the condescending patriarchal attitudes toward Susan by the police superintendent, this miniseries felt and looked very authentic. And it was great to see how the return to code-breaking – albeit in a different but critical mode – in effect, revitalized each woman after what must have clearly been an intellectually stagnant post-war period.  I for one am looking forward to seeing more of these plucky women next spring!

Check out this recent article from the New York Times about a real-life Bletchley Park code-breaker who just died at age 92!  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/world/europe/mavis-batey-world-war-ii-code-breaker-dies-at-92.html?hp&_r=0

 The Bletchley Circle is presently streaming on Netflix.

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 YouTube Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCT5_aDvfK4

4 Comments

  • John Malay says:

    Was this a series? It’s hard to tell with Netflix. Sometimes they show just one episode and you don’t know if it’s a TV movie or not. Netflix has just the one.

    I enjoyed this, but as you say, sometimes you have to cringe at the procedural mistakes. Not even British police carry guns.

    If you like WWII sleuthing, Netflix also has Inspector Foyle.

    • Norma says:

      I believe it is a series and that next Spring 2014 we’ll see a new season…at least I hope so. ‘Cause you do have a point about Netflix; it can be confusing. Thanks for the tip about Inspector Foyle. I’ve heard of it but have yet to screen it. Keep these smart comments coming!

  • Norma says:

    Thanks so much for the positive feedback, and I know I’ll be in good company while I’m glued to my seat next April for Season Two!

  • Geraldine says:

    Norma,

    I’ve seen this series on PBS (earlier this year) and it is incredible! So realistic and I love the post war era films too! The acting is superb, so believable.

    GREAT choice!!

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