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The Commander
cast: Amanda Burton, Hugh Bonneville, Poppy Miller, Matthew Marsh, and Saskia Reeves

creator: Lynda La Plante

415 minutes (15) 2002-3
widescreen ratio 16:9
Contender DVD Region 2 rental / retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Emily Webb
The Commander sees Amanda Burton (Peak Practice, Silent Witness) in a Jane Tennison-type role as Metropolitan Police Serious Crime Group Commander Clare Blake. This DVD includes three feature length dramas from the prolific writer Lynda La Plante, who is responsible for writing some of the best television roles for women in the past few decades - Inspector Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect and Dolly Rawlins in Widows and She's Out. Popular actress Burton follows in the footsteps of Helen Mirren (Prime Suspect) and Anne Mitchell (Widows) in carrying these self-contained dramas.

Entrapment sees Commander Blake reinvestigating the suspicious police shooting of Lionel Cripps; meanwhile, Blake also strikes up an unlikely relationship with the charming James Lampton (Hugh Bonneville) a murderer she helped convict 12 years before. Virus focuses on the death of patients at a hospital by a hacker who alters medical records. As well as this, Commander Blake must contend with a demented stalker, the impending trial of killer James Lampton and her sister's cancer treatment. Blackdog is the name that infamous Deputy Chief Inspector Stephen Blackton is known by in the force; he is the enquiring officer into the James Lampton affair and it proves to be a nightmare for Commander Blake, who desperately tries to cover her tracks.

Like the role of Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, Commander Clare Blake is self-contained, intelligent and emotionally detached. Burton, whilst not as brilliant as Helen Mirren, brings the required coolness to the role of Blake - a woman in a man's world, and resented for it. Blake is unlucky in love, although never short of males falling over themselves to bed her (a thread throughout these three dramas is Blake's attraction to and eventual affair with the boyfriend of the ambitious young DC Carol Browning, who works in the Commander's office).

Of the three episodes, Virus is the least interesting; one of the strengths of La Plante's writing is her use of subplot, in particular the interpersonal relationships that allow us to get to know the characters and Virus is lacking in these.

Whilst Burton is strong in the lead, it is the supporting cast that I found most compelling. In Entrapment, Hugh Bonneville plays the role of killer James Lampton brilliantly (he was reminiscent, disturbingly, of Princess Di's 'rock' Paul Burrell) and it is his relationship with Commander Blake - and its nagging consequences - that is threaded through all three dramas.

Blackdog is the best of the three features because it is in the character of DCI Stephen Blackton that Commander Blake meets her match: Blake's true colours start to show as her back becomes firmly pressed to the wall. David Patrick O'Hara's portrayal of Blackton is mesmerising (he reminds me of a devilishly charming and dangerous Irish detective that I had a disastrous dalliance with in my early twenties, when I was temping in a City police station in London. It was almost as if La Plante had based Blackton on him, or maybe she too has been on the losing end of an affair with an emotionally unavailable detective. It is a cliché but a successful one for the small screen.) He is searching for the truth but also willing to bend the rules - like Commander Blake - to achieve the desired result. Blake's ruthlessness is glaring and Blackton's parting words to her are hopeful signs that these two will meet again...

DVD extras include an interview with Amanda Burton, a character retrospective with Lynda La Plante and a supporting cast featurette.

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