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on December 13, 2012
I was especially interested in The Bletchley Circle because my mother was a code breaker for the US counterpart. Unlike the British protagonists, who for security reasons are required to tell everyone (even their husbands) that they did only "clerical work" during the war, my mother was allowed to state her occupation, although without many details. She did convey to me the intellectual challenges, the excitement, the camaraderie, and the feeling of making a valuable contribution that pervaded the large room where the code breakers worked long hours, just as in this movie. Like the protagonist Susan, my mother was extremely good at anagrams, crosswords, and other puzzles, but complained that the vast majority of those published were not hard enough. She also loved to read murder mysteries.

However, my mother returned to her academic career, whereas Susan has dutifully become a housewife. By 1952, Susan loves her husband and her two small children, she does her best, but she's bored. She becomes obsessed with a serial killer whose murders of young women are regularly reported in the newspapers. She tries to determine the killer's schedule, his geographic patterns as he moves around the country, his modus operandi, and his motives. The police have arrested a different man every time, and she's sure those suspects were framed by the real killer. Susan cannot solve the mystery alone, so she recruits her three closest colleagues from Bletchley: Millie, Lucy, and Jean. Jean's strength is research (she's now a librarian), Lucy has an eidetic memory, and Millie is tough and slightly shady, meaning she buys and sells things, including handguns, on the black market.

In some ways this is a typical thriller. The women discover the killer's identity, but are frustrated by Scotland Yard's refusal to listen to female amateurs. Susan takes the lead, becoming the most visible person in the group. As she gets closer to the killer, he gets closer to her, menacing not only Susan but her family. Considering that Susan is not only brilliant but normally sensible, her at times reckless behavior seems improbable. However, the killer is the most challenging intellectual opponent Susan has had for seven years. The conflict between her role as female and housewife, versus her independence and her intellectual needs, is underscored by her husband's periodic commands to stop what she's doing "whatever it is."

I don't know whether the team of female detectives will return for a second season, but I certainly hope so. My mother would have loved this series too.
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on February 16, 2013
With a superb ensemble cast and exceptionally fine design, this is a series worth savouring. The problems for women emerging into grey, dreary, suburban 1950s England after performing life-and-death intelligence work during the war is all too believable. As the murders mount up and clues are pieced together like code-breaking by this group of brilliant but quirky women, the refusal of senior police to believe them or take them seriously becomes hair-raising. Recommended for those who like unusual, well acted suspense.
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on January 15, 2013
Centers around a group of women who shared wartime experiences decoding German military messages at Bletchley Park during WWII. Ten years later, back in the mainstream as 'ordinary' housewives and women, and having to deny their past due to the Official Secrets Act, a series of murders brings them back together.

They are fascinated by the patterns they are trained to spot in the killer's habits. They are, of course, poo-poo'd by their husbands and police, so they go it on their own -- with certain degrees of danger and difficulty.

A cracking good tale, with a top-notch cast that enjoys each other's company. The best sort of British TV, without any of the maudlin and saccharine side of Masterpiece Theater (not to mention their constant asking for money, even on a bought-and-paid-for DVD).
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on January 11, 2013
When the masterful 2005 version of Bleak House premiered on Masterpiece Theatre, we were all introduced to the talents of Anna Maxwell Martin. She starred as the orphaned, ill-treated Esther who finally found purpose at Bleak House before going on to star in a number of smaller roles. Now she has been restored as a leading lady - and she does it all rather marvelously in this "adult" three-part mini-series.

Ordinary is not a word one could ascribe to Susan (Martin). She loves puzzles and cannot seem to shut off her brain no matter how hard she tries - when there's a riddle, she must solve it. Some nine years after WWII, that is exactly what Susan is living: an ordinary life with two children and a husband whose career is on the brink of brilliant success. As a code-cracker during the war, Susan was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement and has kept her work a secret but now there have been a string of horrible murders and by powers of deduction, she's come up with information that could aid the police in their investigations. When the information turns out to produce no results, Susan reaches out to her former colleagues in Lucy (Sophie Rundle), Millie (Rachel Stirling) and Jean (Julie Graham), all of whom are living simpler lives now. Lucy is involved in an unhealthy relationship and Millie is hurt by Susan's dismissal of their friendship, having once promised her that she'd never allow Susan to be "ordinary"; the girls had grand adventures planned before Susan fell into marital life.

Skeptical to hear out Susan's plans, the girls eventually band together, knowing there is more to Susan's patterns than anyone is willing to notice. They use their training and any resources they can find to follow the serial killer's path. Clues that may lead them right to his doorstep - and possibly endanger their own lives.

One day during my on-line browsing, I happened upon this series and was drawn to it for a pair of reasons. For obvious reasons, the first was its leading lady and then I became interested after references were made to the brilliant Foyle's War in other's reviews. To judge the series by that original Anthony Horowitz penned script may not be fair but it certainly has similarities while holding its own, proving that it is just as exciting, clever and addicting in ways that are unique to its own style. The only flaw in the otherwise spotless scripting is that the series spans a mere three one-hour episode run and there have been no plans to produce more. That is enough to earn a sad face from me.

Restricting my thoughts to only this genre, I am not sure that since Foyle's War, I've met a cast of such fabulous characterizations. It was more fun than I expected to follow these women as they deduced and sought clues to put away a murderer and try to convince the police of their findings in the meantime. Like her prior roles, Anna Maxwell Martin was a fantastic leading lady. She manages to play each character with a quiet grace and the role of Susan is no different. She's compassionate and yet elicits sympathy from us for her apparent inability to calm her busy mind and desire to want to do something that matters. What she doesn't realize is that to her children, just being their "mummy" is enough. Her personality doesn't let her enjoy normalcy and yet, we don't doubt that she loves her family. Behind the apparent, she's an interesting character and one that could have been written even more complicated should producers ever see the merit in making the premise a serial. Each of the women has a specialty in their field which makes it easy to distinguish who plays what role in their crime-solving "book club."

Though the audience had more to go on than some mysteries, I was impressed how well writer's strung along the viewers with clues. More is revealed than we might expect before the end but it did not detract from the thrill of the chase or seeing the killer brought to justice. There was excitement and danger in the course of one scene and it felt like an enigma that deserved more than an hour to solve. As a story, `Circle' works well, but there are a few places that it lags in pacing though during its majority, three hours was filled nicely and never seemed to fall into being boring or come across as time used poorly in the capacity of a premise that is all too often abused. Filming and staging is equally impressive building suspense when it should and displaying character's lighter sides when the time is right. Unfortunately, The Bletchley Circle is not all "good." The premise may be written with precision but in all honesty, it travels down some dark places. The criminal mastermind is not a pleasant place to be yet this British (ITV) produced show has found a compatible balance much like predecessors have. Even in the middle of thoughtless crimes, the characters are not forgotten and they make it jolly good fun.

© Copyright 2011-2013 Dreaming Under the Same Moon / Scribbles, Scripts and Such
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon April 19, 2013
This is another case where it is sometimes better to watch a DVD release of a series airing on PBS than watching it on TV. The Bletchley Circle will begin airing on PBS this week as a three-part mystery. And even though you'll need to set aside an hour to watch it each week, the film (broken up into three episodes) is actually only 135 minutes (just over two hours). The episodes flow into one another with no real backtracking and I found that by watching three episodes back to back made for a richer viewing experience. The series was produced for commercial television in the UK, hence the short episodes.

I'm sure a lot of the reviews posted here will be based on those who watched the series on TV and, while I haven't seen the PBS version, my guess is there will be some small edits because of a few graphic images (both violence and sexual. The Blu-ray (and the DVD, I assume) are unedited and each episode runs about 45 minutes).
This film (series?) uses the standard "looking for the serial killer" baseline but is different because the crime (well multiple murders) are solved by four women who worked at Bletchley Park - an estate in Buckingham, England where smart women were recruited from Oxford and Cambridge in 1943 to break the "enemy"'s code. After a brief intro, we are placed in early 1950s post-war London where four of the women - each with their own personality and home life - reunite to find a killer. There are men in the cast but every male character they interact with is either abusive or ignorant of their inner feelings. (Though women viewers will be attracted by the strong female characters, men will like the series too.) Both the script and the film's direction are by men.

Most of the interesting events take part in the third "episode", though you need to see the previous two to understand it. Honestly, the only weak parts are when the "killer" is on screen. Then it's just like all the "serial killer" movies.
The Bluray (and I'm pretty sure the DVD) does have a "Special Feature". It's a nicely done 28-minute featurette titled "Electronic Press Kit" featuring interviews with the four lead actresses (none of the male actors are included) as well as the production crew. Most of the discussion is centered on the "design" of the film and is informative. At the end there is mention that this just MIGHT be the beginning of an ongoing series (another serial rapist perhaps).
None of the cast were familiar to me and that made it even more interesting. It's not as great as some PBS dramas, but I did really like it and would probably give it 4.5 stars.
I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.
Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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on May 13, 2013
First two episodes were great. The tightness of the script begins to unwind at episode three. The conflict among the women about whether or not to proceed with the investigation is resolved too quickly; their removal of evidence from a crime scene is brushed over; and Susan's decision to go alone to the killer is not believable. Certainly she's brave, not to mention intelligent, but this move was too reckless for a Bletchley woman. It was as if the writer had to squeeze a story that warranted 4 episodes into 3. Nonetheless, the acting is fabulous. Anna Martin and Sophie Rundel are extraordinary and the other cast members not far behind. The premise of the series is A+. I look forward to more and hope writer Guy Burt can keep a more even course.
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I was able to watch all the episodes of this series thanks to a friend who had purchased the DVD off the Amazon UK site. The series was shown on PBS and is also available for download here.

The premise of the story is intriguing. Four women used to work as codebreakers back during WW II in Bletchley Park. Fast forward to the year 1952 - it has been several years since the war ended, and the four women have lost contact with each other. One in particular, Susan Gray (Anna Maxwell Martin who played the role of Bessie Higgins in North & South, Esther Summerson in Episode 1, and Sarah Burton in South Riding) is leading a rather quiet life with her husband (who has no inkling of her real job during the war) and her two young children. Susan is a highly intelligent woman and is obviously looking for something to do other than childminding and housekeeping. When a series of murders take place, all involving young women, Susan thinks she may be able to help the police in their investigations. Unfortunately, her attempt to help does not yield anything, and her husband, upset at his wife's apparent interest in the case, forbids her to pursue it. Susan then decides that she might stand a better chance at solving the murders if she could get her code-breaking colleagues back together again, and so the Bletchley Circle is born.

The other women in the circle are Millie (Rachael Stirling), Lucy (Sophie Rundle), and Jean (Julie Graham) and though initially skeptical and reluctant to get involved, another murder acts as the catalyst that brings the women back together. The show is engaging on many levels. The period details are credibly done and brings post-war England to life. Little things like the rationing of food in 1952 (food rationing continued till 1954) is well-depicted in the show and many more (such as fashion) that transport the viewer into the past. The four women make an interesting group of crime solvers. Each individual has a strength that lends itself to puzzling out the case. The dialogue and manner of interaction is also well depicted and I enjoyed the attention to details in each scene.

The women's journey towards solving the case takes them into dark and menacing places and the show perfectly captures all the finer nuances of a good procedural. I would advise viewers who can be a little patient to wait till all three episodes are screened and then watch them back to back since I thought the story flowed better that way, instead of being chopped up, but certainly it can be enjoyed either way. The total running time on the DVD is 150 minutes.

There are only three episodes in this series, but I hope to see more of Susan and company, perhaps solving another crime in the near future? This is a well made period crime drama that should appeal to fans of crime dramas and period productions.
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If you are an Anglophile and mystery lover, you will feast upon this intelligent whodunit and thriller set in 1952 England. There has been a spate of murders of young women, and former Bletchley Park code breaker now housewife, Susan, thinks she detects a pattern.

She convinces her husband, who doesn't know of her past as a code breaker, to visit Scotland Yard with her to tell them that there is a victim they haven't discovered, based upon the pattern of the killer. When no victim turns up, and Scotland Yard dismisses her, Susan turns to three female code breakers with whom she worked at Bletchley Park during WWII, to see if they will contribute their formidable talents to preventing a future murder.

While there is trepidation at first, the quartet is on the scent of the killer, discerning patterns and predicting next steps. The joy of this series is in the distinct character of the four women, the synergy and chemistry they have together, the period details of architecture, autos, custom and fashion. You feel you are in the early 1950's with the ration cards, the male-female relationships, and the attitudes towards women and limited opportunities for them to use their mental prowess.

Ah, we hope this series is so well-received and successful, it will become a regular show. Wouldn't that be a treat?

The production values of the show are fantastic. Love the actors who play the key roles: Anna Maxwell Martin (Susan), Rachael Stirling (Millie), Sophie Rundle (Lucy) and Julie Graham (Jean).

If you are looking for a smart, original and aesthetically textured British mystery, you need to check this one out.
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on April 26, 2013
As a "Downton Abbey" and cozy mystery fan, this fabulous, little 3-episode mini-series was such a joy to discover! Great writing, acting and direction as I've come to expect from British TV, but I was surprised at how well-balanced "Bletchley Circle" was in addressing the sexism and inner pathos of these brilliant women living "diminished" post-war lives while still keeping the development of the mystery plot front-and-center and moving at an engaging pace. In other words, the story gives you a good understanding of the characters' situations/frustrations without ever getting bogged down by it, thus enhancing an already fascinating and really solidly built mystery story.

As for the ladies themselves, they're a great, interesting mix--Susan, the brilliant but somewhat socially inept savant; Millie, our bold, street-smart, world-traveling feminist and "woman of action;" matronly Jean, the ultimate organizer/leader and apparently the best-connected librarian in London; and sweet, unassuming Lucy with her extraordinary photographic memory, always eager to help even if she's not the sharpest codebreaker in the Park. ;-) They're a great mix of very endearing characters, and the care and friendship shown between them is one of my favorite "by-products" of the series.

Without spoiling anything, let me just say the conclusion is powerful and satisfying and definitely leaves room for more. Here's sincerely hoping the producers make more!
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on April 29, 2013
this is what drama and suspense are all about. if you watch tv, and you have half a brain left in your head, this is worth chucking in there and rolling around for a bit. mystery, just enough daily life mixed in, historical accuracy and beautifully filmed. the actors and actresses make straight forward work of the dialogue, and no one storyline gets in the way of the adventure. it's exciting and makes the viewer think. im certainly hoping for the next episode.
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