Today began with police discouraging Oxford’s May Morning revellers from throwing themselves into the Thames and ended with detectives from the Northumbria force puzzling over the flower-strewn watery graves of two young murder victims.
Inspector Vera Stanhope finally arrived on our screens last night in ITV’s adaptation of “Hidden Depths”.
Actress Brenda Blethyn has done for Vera Stanhope what Joan Hicks did for Miss Marple. In the novels, writer Anne Cleeves’ descriptions of Vera sometimes verge on caricature, but the scriptwriters at ITV have wisely toned down this aspect to give us a more nuanced and more plausible character. More writing and acting credits are due for the interpretation of the mother-son relationship between the occasionally maddening Vera and long suffering sidekick DS Joe Ashton (David Leon).
As with any dramatisation, the TV version differs from the book. Some of the changes were dramatically justified, others were not. Having decided to start with one of the later novels, the writers included key aspects of Vera’s back story that had originally appeared in the earlier novel, The Crow Trap.
Among the less satisfactory alterations were the decision to change elements of the plot, (apparently to give it a more explicitly sexual motive) and the excising of the interrelationships and interplays between the main characters. In the novel the success of the investigation depends on building up an accurate picture of these relationships and the way in which they might lead someone to murder.
TV is a visual medium and wide angle lenses were used to good effect to convey the wild, brooding beauty of the Northumbrian coastline. On the down side, there were rather too many interior wide angle shots of people walking at great speed through unbelievably long corridors when a close-up handheld in the style of “The Bill” (RIP) might have been more effective.
“Hidden Depths” represents a good first step in Vera’s transition from page to screen, but might have benefited from the more in depth treatment that a longer adaptation screened over two nights would provide.