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

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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 saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss