Vera: No Ordinary Detective
“A massive personal tragedy hits Vera, and over the first two episodes she finds it very, very hard to deal with’, reveals two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn of Vera, back for series six.
“There are great stories, and more wonderful Northumberland locations”, adds the actress enigmatically, “and that’s all I’m telling you!”
But we know a bit more than that, sorry Brenda! The new series is made up of four standalone episodes, and kicks off with ‘The Dark Road’. A body is discovered on the Northumberland moors, and identified as a woman who made a distressed 999 call on the night of her death – suggesting, horrifyingly, that she may have been abducted by someone she knew.
Vera, as usual, is on the case, and discovers the victim was a controversial figure in her town, had a complex relationship with her family and several dark secrets of her own.
Yep, it’s a ripping good start – and the following episodes are no less gripping.
But back to the series’ namesake, who is sitting in front of me. So utterly convincing is Brenda as the gruff, permanently dishevelled DCI Vera Stanhope that seeing her in a sharp skirt suit and meticulous make-up is something of a shock to the system.
When I suggest the glam outfit is a far cry from Vera’s usual get-up she giggles, recalling the first pair of big boots her character is now famous for.
“I bought those in Birmingham in a sale, they’re kids’ boots actually, only twelve quid! I always start with the feet playing a character, so when it came to Vera, I thought, I know the very boots! They’re practical, hardwearing and they fit.”
Vera may have a good heart, but she doesn’t suffer fools. Brenda thinks she’s probably a little slower than her DCI to sharpen her tongue against somebody – “but I do let rip now and again!” she adds.
On the whole, she thinks Vera is a fair person – but understands why after the pilot people were startled at how abrasive Vera was. It took her lovable sidekick Joe Ashworth, who adored her from day one, to make viewers gradually thaw towards her.
“That happens in life”, muses Brenda. “Somebody you meet might be dour, miserable and you hate them, then you get to know them and they stop being unpleasant!
“Then the opposite happens – you meet someone that’s so handsome and full of joie de vivre, then you get to know them and think, ‘Ah, you boring sod!’”
Now on its sixth series, Vera – adapted from Ann Cleeves’s Vera Stanhope books – is an established TV favourite. The stories are inevitably intriguing – but what is it about Vera herself that keeps viewers so hooked?
A part of it is that her middle-aged, studiously unstylish detective is Mrs Average – she poses no threat, aside from the sharp tongue.
Brenda agrees. “She’s so ordinary, there’s no competition – sitting at home, you’re not thinking oh, those cupid lips, that scrumptious dress… There’s a comfort to that. You just enjoy the ride.
“That she’s also a middle-aged woman in a position of authority is just great.”
The Kent native gets mountains of fan mail from across the globe, much of which enquires about the future direction of Vera’s love life. Like most things about her though, we know frustratingly little. That Vera’s not ‘tidied up’ emotionally or otherwise, however, is what makes her interesting, argues Brenda.
“It’s refreshing that you don’t know everything about her. She’s a bit of a loner, not one to wear her heart on her sleeve”, she says.
“The show’s creators do drip-feed bits of information about Vera’s private life into the story, but what’s really absorbing are the cases she’s solving. And that’s what they concentrate on.”
Brenda, who was nominated for an Oscar for the films Secrets and Lies and Little Voice, confesses to leaving husband Michael behind in Ramsgate when she heads ‘oop North’ to film a new series, which takes around five months. She hopes the couple’s recently acquired cockapoo puppy, Jack, will prove an enthusiastic substitute while she’s braving the chilly Northumberland weather on set. So no, Brenda has no plans to say no if they offer her yet another series.
Vera’s distinctive accent, says the Kent native, comes second nature now but was hard to get to grips with initially: “I remember my first read-through. I must have gone all round the British Isles… Anne the author was sitting there too! That was daunting”.
We think she’s also pretty at home donning those frumpy layers, too. And please don’t hate us for this Brenda, but we wouldn’t have you any other way.
Never lose the fishing hat Vera. Or the green mac, come to think of it…