Move over, Jane Tennison. Anna Travis is on the case

The successor to 'Prime Suspect' has a new young heroine as its star. Gerard Gilbert investigates Lynda La Plante's latest creation

Oh sister. What would Jane Tennison say? Prime Suspect's no-nonsense detective superintendent would probably choke on her quadruple vodka, although she's now retired and on the wagon. For in Above Suspicion, ITV1's successor to Prime Suspect, rookie detective DC Anna Travis totters to her first murder crime scene in killer heels, mud splattering her catwalk model legs, and vomiting at the sight of the maggot-ridden corpse. Was it for this that Tennison fought endless battles with her sexist colleagues at the Met? Or is this glamorous creature the product of Tennison hard-fought victories? Is Travis the pretty new face of a sort of post-feminist Prime Suspect?

Lynda La Plante thinks Tennison would be wary of Travis, but ultimately won over – and La Plante should know since both women are her creations. For 15 years, from 1991 until her enforced retirement in 2006, Tennison – inarguably Helen Mirren's greatest television role – won a succession of small victories for women in television's depiction of the police force. We got used to Mirren, the thinking man's sexpot, scrubbed down and unglamorised, scowling at mutilated corpses through cigarette smoke and constantly having to prove her worth to her male colleagues both inferior and superior. La Plante's new girl on the block, DC Anna Travis, gets to keep her feminine charms and intuition as well as be played by leggy redhead Kelly Reilly – an actress of coltish elegance that, unlike Mirren's beauty, is not being disguised.

"As a predatory creature I think Jane Tennison would monitor her very closely because she's very beautiful," La Plante tells me. "But if Travis proved to be an intelligent police officer then I think that would be a plus for her. She'd have bypassed the feminine."

And they don't get a lot more feminine than Kelly Reilly, the 31-year-old actress from Eden Lake, He Kills Coppers, Mrs Henderson Presents and an Olivier-nominated stage actress to boot (and who, by one of those quirks of fate, began her career in an early episode of Prime Suspect). Reilly reckons most of the old battles have been won as far as the police force is concerned. "Institutional sexism is yesterday's news," she declares. "The reality is that there are now many, many brilliant women in the police. I don't know if Anna would have an easier time if she were a guy. Probably not until she shows her worth."

In the two-parter, which begins tomorrow and concludes on Monday, Reilly's Travis is seconded to the hunt for a serial killer of prostitutes. Her new boss is a former colleague of Travis's father, who was a well-regarded Met detective. (Reilly's own father is a retired policeman.) Compared with some of Jane Tennison's former adversaries, especially the hostile DS Bill Otley – memorably played by Tom Bell – DCI Langton is a pussycat.

In the opening half-hour there is much scene-setting as to the current state of sexual politics. DCI Langton (played by Ciaran Hinds) is no paragon of reconstructed masculinity. His female subordinates are still expected to fetch sandwiches (albeit not without backchat), but he is positively benign compared to Tom Bell's scary dinosaur Otley.

"The way Travis deals with discrimination is very different to the way it was portrayed in Prime Suspect," says Lynda La Plante. "She deflates it with humour. Or if someone says something nasty behind her back, she ignores it."

Not that inter-gender relationships in the force are without complication, says La Plante. "I spent a lot of time with real female detective constables and they told me one of the first rules they learn is 'don't touch'. Because if you put your hand on a man's sleeve, he'll think, 'I'm having her'.

"Since creating Jane Tennison I've seen so many prototypes of her – all cop shows seem to have this forceful pushy blonde – but times have moved on and a lot of the women I see are of an age to be the rank that they are. I wanted to put on the screen the naivety of a university graduate in the police force. She has not come through the ranks."

And Anna Travis is based on nobody more than La Plante herself. "She is partly me when I started researching the first Prime Suspect, including the autopsy scene in the first episode where Travis spectacularly faints. Like Travis I lied when the pathologist asked if I'd ever been at an autopsy before. I remember him saying 'there's a lot of gas in here'. It was the biggest, lowest fart you can imagine and the cadaver sat up because of the release of the wind."

Kelly Reilly explains that, compared to Jane Tennison, Travis hasn't "got her layers of skin on". She also realises that she herself will face comparisons with the actress who immortalised Jane Tennison, Dame Helen Mirren. As it happens, Reilly played the younger version of Mirren in the film Last Orders and meeting her as a 17-year-old in Prime Suspect.

"I remember I asked her about going to drama school, and she said to me that she thought that drama school was the worst thing I could do and that I should go off travelling, or go to university and study politics.

"Mirren is somebody who walks to her own beat and I like the fact that she's the most successful she's ever been now she's in her sixties. I love it when women really come into their own when they're older. That's much more interesting." Jane Tennison would raise a glass of vodka to that.

'Above Suspicion' starts tomorrow on ITV1 at 9pm

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower