God love Brenda Blethyn…especially as Vera Stanhope.


One great mystery series that hasn’t made a lot of noise here in the U.S. yet (at least, I’ve not heard much about it) is the ITV show Vera.*

I’m not quite sure why that is. Because it’s not flashy? Because it’s not headlined by a hot guy? (See: Sherlock. Luther. Shetland. Case Histories. And really, I do mean go SEE them, they’re awesome. But still. You get my point.) Because its several series consist of stand-alone 90-minute episodes, and those take a bit longer to binge-watch? It’s a mystery.**

Vera is about DI Vera Stanhope, played by Brenda Blethyn, and is set in the Northumberland region of Great Britain (in the far northeast of England, snuggling right up to Scotland, trying for warmth, probably): That means rugged moors, moody weather, lots of atmospheric outdoorsy shots. Stanhope’s a brilliant detective but a bit of a mess otherwise: dealing with a lot of family history, kinda shlubby in appearance, definitely demanding of her lieutenant, Joe. (And wow, talking of hot guys.) But anyone who underestimates her soon learns that it may take her a while, but she’ll just keep beating her head against the wall of whatever crime she’s trying to solve until it gets solved. She emphatically doesn’t make it look pretty, and yet she turns out to be effective. Let’s put it this way: Vera’s my kind of woman. Screw form, and function is only achieved through what seems like sheer bloody-mindedness. I’m a little in love with Vera, if you must know.

Which means, of course, that I’m a bit in love with Brenda Blethyn, and oh, I so totally am. She really got her first deserving props for being in Mike Leigh’s movie Secrets and Lies, but I haven’t seen that one. (Whenever I see the name “Mike Leigh” I shudder a bit. There’s realism, and there’s grittiness, and then there’s Mike Leigh. Mike Leigh’s films are just a bit, ahem, too visceral for me–you literally only have to watch the first minute of “Nakedto see what I mean, but I wouldn’t recommend it.) But I have seen, approximately several million times, the movie Little Voice. And Blethyn’s performance in that, up against Michael Caine (and Jane Horrocks and Ewan McGregor, no slouches themselves) is sheer brilliance. You hate her,  she’s a totally unlikable character, but still: WOW.

She’s also an actress we just don’t hear enough about in the States, so it’s time to correct that. Start with Vera, and move on to the rest of her filmography (she was also very good in the miniseries Between the Sheets, if you can find it) as the spirit takes you.

*It’s an adaptation of the Vera Stanhope mystery series by British author Ann Cleeves (who is also the author of the books on which the new BBC series Shetland is based).

**Thankfully there’s a lot of love for Blethyn and the series online.


  1. I love Vera too (and Brenda). Other Aussies I know love the series too – maybe because it’s not all about white teeth and perfect make-up (which, quite personally, makes me gag, and spoils an otherwise good show/film for me). It’s got guts, and grit, and is a bit dark, but also a bit quirky. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find it so refreshing to see a woman over fifty (over 60) starring as a gritty detective in her own television series.

    I saw Secrets and Lies when it came out at the cinema and, boy, it affected me for a long time afterwards. The way it was filmed, it was like we were there – the camera was like another guest at the dinner table. I felt like I was intruding, rather than watching a film. Saving Grace was another good one with Brenda as the star (Grace) – well worth watching if you haven’t seen it.

    Maybe it’s a bit too real for American audiences. Not glamorous enough? It’s hard to know why some things appeal to different audiences. Maybe people just don’t know about it…

    Anyway, I’m glad to see someone else is a fan – it does take devotion. I just discovered the show myself, as Series 8 was showing on ABC iView in Australia, and I bought the DVDs to catch up. I’m loving watching her personal growth as well as the often bleak, but always beautiful, countryside around Northumberland.

    • So glad to have found another Vera (and Brenda) fan, Cindy! It’s wonderful to see a woman over fifty (over forty, let’s face it) headlining a show, and doing it so powerfully.
      I’m older now so perhaps I’ve grown up enough to try some Mike Leigh again. I will look into “Secrets and Lies” based on your description!
      I LOVE your disclaimer about not needing all the perfect teeth–did you know I’ve spent time trying to track down pictures of Ewan McGregor (a favorite of mine) in earlier days, when his teeth weren’t so perfect and prettied up for American movies? I know he had some work done somewhere and I can’t trace down just when. And of course that’s his right, anyone can do what they want with their own teeth–but I do think he was cuter before when they weren’t quite as perfect.
      Love this series. Hoping to find time to make it through the entire series myself one of these days, so I wish you luck finding all the DVDs!

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