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VINE VOICEon August 16, 2014
VERA, Set 4. (2011- ) This is a new, contemporaneously set British television series made by ITV. The British mystery series/police procedural, in its 2014 fourth season, returned to record ratings in the United Kingdom. The series has aired in the United States on PBS channels. It is based on the best-selling mysteries of British author Ann Cleeves, and like her work, is set in the extreme northeast of England, Geordie-land, just under the Roman-built Hadrian's Wall, which separates England from Scotland.

The production stars two-time Oscar® nominee Brenda Blethyn (LITTLE VOICE, SECRETS AND LIES, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, ATONEMENT) as DCI Vera Stanhope, a solitary, obsessed, caustic investigator with a messy persona and private life. She's 40 pounds overweight, a bit disheveled; dresses for comfort and warmth --think female Columbo -- in the brutal Northumberland winters. It is available streaming or in a boxed set that includes four feature-length, character-driven crime dramas on four discs, runs 370 minutes. For mature audiences. A photo gallery comes as an extra. And thank you, RLJ Entertainment-Acorn, it's got subtitles: otherwise don't know what we'd do with the local accent on this side of the pond. I received this as a review copy.

Stanhope pursues the truth in the cases of murder, kidnapping, and blackmail that occur on her patch of Geordie-land. She's driven by her own demons; fails to follow the rules of proper nutrition; hides her loneliness well; drinks more than she ought. We're told she lost her mother as a young child, was raised by a distant father, is estranged from her only sister. She's a complex character: a brilliant, independent cop with a dumb private life; a character that undoubtedly requires an actress of Blethyn's skill. In addition to her sidekick Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth, as played by David Leon, who characterizes his part with an odd, bowlegged walk, as if he were malnourished as a child and had rickets, she's supported in the cop shop by Paul Ritter and Jon Morrison. The episodes are, to quote RLJ/Acorn:

Disc 1
EPISODE 1: On Harbour Street
Stanhope investigates the stabbing death of a senior citizen aboard a crowded rush-hour train—and learns that the chief witness to the woman's killing is Ashworth's young daughter. The case takes the detectives to a tightknit community in the quiet coastal town where the victim lived and where, Stanhope suspects, the killer knew her well.

Disc 2
EPISODE 2: Protected
When a young man is beaten to death along the seafront at a popular resort, Stanhope wonders why he was there rather than at his father's retirement party. Suspicion falls on a local arcade owner with a grudge against the father. However, the inspector believes the answers may lie with the deceased's own family—the domineering patriarch, stepmother, underachieving brother, and a sister who appears not to have had contact with the others for years.
Disc 3
EPISODE 3: The Deer Hunters
Two local poachers are shot at and their truck torched—while less than a mile away, a man recently returned to the area is killed with a single round from a hunting rifle. The gamekeeper from the nearby estate denies involvement in the incidents, and Stanhope and Ashworth keep all their options open as they enter a world dominated by rural tradition and life on the moors.
Disc 4
EPISODE 4: Death of a Family Man
Was the dead body found in a local river a case of suicide or murder? The victim was a successful businessman who was supposed to be on a business trip to Dublin. The waters muddy further when Stanhope and Ashworth discover that other law-enforcement authorities are interested in the man and that there was more to his family life than met the eye.

I love this series, loved Set 3, which I reviewed on its website in these pages, and have got to manage somehow to double back to Sets 1 and 2. These powerful free-standing episodes have been filmed in the original villages of the Cleeves crime novels; the bleak, lonely landscapes of Northumberland, a region of the U.K. that has traditionally suffered, and still does, from underemployment, look beautiful here. The mysteries are muscular, and so, uniformly, is the acting, with particular praise due Blethyn, who has created a very strong yet vulnerable character. The stories are dark and realistic, dealing with middle and lower class people, in contrast to most glossy American cop shows, female-centered or not. In further contrast to the female leads of most American TV cop shows, Vera's not young, pretty, sexy or well-dressed. She doesn't have a husband, or a lover, and doesn't seem interested in getting one. She doesn’t have a social or family life and doesn’t seem interested in getting one. She's interested in getting her perps, man or woman, and she does.
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on September 15, 2014
Just finished watching Season 4 on Acorn TV. Wish they made more episodes. I love her character and while she is a tad crusty and seemingly unreasonable to her staff, it is easy to see through to how much she genuinely cares for them. These are outstanding mysteries that are typically not solved until the very last minute. Can't wait for season 5.
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on August 20, 2014
Love Love Vera! Smart drama, I can watch it over & over again. Very detailed, lots of texture & layers, Vera is always thinking.
I wish it did not take sooooo long for sets to be released. I'm ready now for set 5.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon October 3, 2014
DCI Vera Stanhope is rough, untidy, obsessed. She's a female Columbo. She's a determined sleuth, aging but tough enough, most days. This new set has 4 episodes [WITH SUBTITLES]. Teens and older recommended for violent disturbing scenes. Characters are adapted after Ann Cleeves' mysteries. The Northumberland filming locale & settings are a picture. Cases as violent as the country is ruggedly beautiful.

Brenda Blethyn (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) as Vera, convincingly leads the team. DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon) is a young family man and assistant. His wife Celene (Sonya Cassidy -`The Paradise') is in 3 eps. DC Shep (Clare Calbraith -`Downton Abbey') and DC Warren (Tom Hutch). Forensics via new cast member, Dr Marcus Hunter (Kingsley Ben-Adir; all 4 eps). Guest stars play criminals & victims. Strong acting casts in every episode.

SUBTITLES available/optional for all episodes in set 4
<1> On Harbour Street ==Vera looks for the train killer of elderly Margaret. DS Ashworth & daughter were on the train and the child is a witness. Guest: Lynn Farleigh (Wish Me Luck, Pride & Prejudice); & Paul Copley (Downton Abbey).

<2> Protected ==A son is fatally bludgeoned on a beach away from his dad's retirement party. Plenty of suspects within this dysfunctional wealthy family.

<3> The Deer Hunters ==2 poachers are down and a van gutted. Is the rural moors' lifestyle a deadly one? Charlotte Hope plays Saskia.

<4> Death of a Family Man ==Was Shearwood's river death a suicide? Much more to uncover about this case.

The longer this series continues, the more intense the situations get. Good crime drama with many ongoing character threads. If you like Midsomer Murders, you will like Vera.
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on December 9, 2014
"Vera" is a tremendous visual and imaginative treat. Always superb, Brenda Blethyn is the driving, elemental force that is Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope: salt of the earth. Blethyn's face is as expressive and interesting as the blustery northern English landscape, weathering storms of conflict within and without. Blethyn grew up in unpretentious, working-class circumstances, and brings that richness of experience to her role. Great mystery series go beyond the genre to encompass a wide range of life-issues; "Vera" explores complexity beautifully. Filmed in clouded northern light, with nuanced shades of human emotion, DCI Vera Stanhope's unresolved pathos over her lonely life underlines the narrative. Slugging down whisky under sullen clouds, Vera once declared that solitude is not for the faint-hearted. Northumberland is another character, its rolling hills and rough coastline, the heavy line of the sea, castle ruins, and towns hit hard by decades of economic hardship, providing a unique canvas for these mysteries. Houses huddle under a leaden sky that slams down at the end of the street, a permanent dead-end. The northern dialect, strewn with a heritage of Viking remnants, is as hefty and delicious as meat-pies and ale. Northumberland's northern light and wave-tossed seascapes provide a timelessness to the human narrative strewn upon the landscape.

The haunting soundtrack, by Ben Bartlett, adds an ominous depth to the series. The marvelous Brenda Blethyn is amazing; she and the rest of the talented crew authentically bring alive the mystery novels of Ann Cleves. The series is further enlivened by a great cast. David Leon is excellent as Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth, coping with Vera's dark moods and worrying over her health. Jon Morrison plays long-suffering Detective Constable Kenny Lockhart, Sonya Cassidy perfectly depicts Sergeant Joe Ashworth's wife Celine, and Clare Calbraith is newcomer DC Rebecca Shpherd. In the U.K., theater, movie, and television productions value actors who are robustly, deeply human, and provide venues like this series that share this wealth of talent. All the guest stars are top-notch.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon December 7, 2014
Review of DVD – NO SPOILERS! – Another great set with easy to read subtitles

First, off, know that Amazon will often group reviews of different formats of a film or TV series (streaming, and various regions) so, when reading a review, you should note which version the review is commenting on.

If you’ve come to this review, you have probably already seen Series 1 through 3 and know the basic characters for this wonderful mystery series produced by the commercial ITV network in the UK (as opposed to the BBC). So I won’t rehash that info. Like the previous sets there are four “approximately” 90 minute episodes – one on each DVD in the package. Each has a murder (or two or three) that must be solved by DCI Vera Stanhope portrayed by the wonderful actress Brenda Blethyn. Vera and her team work in northern England and the country scenery (especially in the third story in this set) is gorgeous. As others have pointed out there is some graphic violence to be aware of, but no profanity. Some compare the frumpy Vera to Peter Falk’s detective Columbo but I don’t see much of a similarity other than their attire.

Some reviewers here have posted the plot summaries that show up on your screen before you get to select the “Play” button. I’m not sure they add much to enjoying the stories. After all they are mysteries. The murders happen at the beginning and they are solved by the end. So I won’t discuss the plots.

I will point out that for the US NTSC release Acorn has added English subtitles in really easy to read YELLOW fonts. While I can easily understand what Vera is saying, some of the regional accents can be a bit tough so I’ve enjoyed using the subtitles. It’s also interesting that sometime the subtitles add info you might not hear (a certain sound) or provide the name of a character whose name is not spoken. I think Acorn should be thanked for providing what I consider the best (well, easiest to read) subtitles of all the companies releasing British TV series in the US.
The other nice thing about th8is series is that not a lot of time is spent on personal lives of the crime team. It happens occasionally but not often and each story can stand on its own.

If you’ve come to this volume by watching the previous ones, you’ll certainly enjoy this one. Yes, you “could” start here but I really like starting with Series one of any series.

There are no special bonus features on the DVD.

I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
“Anything Phonographic”
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on November 3, 2014
I love British mysteries and being English myself can follow the northern England dialect easily without subtitles! Brenda Blethyn is a first rate actor and is hardly recognizable as the gritty, messy detective of this series; nonetheless, Vera always gets her man or woman! This is a very real character that you keep rooting for. I also love the backdrop scenic views of the English northern towns and cities and, in particular, the cold and somehow fearful North Sea that I remember visiting once in my youth (in comparison the English Channel in the south is so mild). I imagine I watch this series with not a little nostalgia for England yet, at the same time, find the stories believable and so well acted.
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on December 12, 2014
This series is the best crime series to come out of UK for a long time. I come from the region and the accents are spot on. Brenda Bethyn is amazing as Det Vera Stanhope. I've been hooked on this series since the first episode and when I get the sets, I have to eke out watching them as I don't want all four episodes to be over. Wish they'd make more and more often, but I know Brenda Bethyn is a very busy actress, just glad she's agreeing to do these. Recommend this to anyone who enjoys good British drama, you definately won't be disappointed.
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on November 16, 2014
I can't get enough of this wonderful British police procedural. I wish they made more episodes per season. Brenda Blethyn is extraordinary as the DCI with the rapier wit. She coos and calls people "love" and "pet" and then goes in for the kill during interrogations. She's not much kinder to her hard working crew of detectives either. Her frumpty appearance and old Landrover automobile belie her cunning ability to uncover crime. Doesn't get much better than this.
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on May 7, 2015
If only American filmmakers would learn from the Brits . . . Vera is as dark and troubled as any male detective, and her male side-kick is ever so easy on the eyes. Maybe there is hope for equality after all . . . The stories, characters, actors and music are totally addictive.
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