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DVD Watch: 'The Bletchley Circle'

Four British women, one dangerous serial killer
Monica Riese, 5:41pm, Tue. May. 14, 2013
(l-r) Jean, Susan, Lucy, and Millie

The Bletchley Circle, which aired this spring as a miniseries on PBS and which today hit shelves in DVD form, is a fantastically well-produced thriller that tracks four talented women in 1950s London.

There's Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), with a mathematical mind and a knack for numbers; she lives with her husband and two young children. There's Millie (Rachael Stirling), who has a way with maps and who's spent the last decade living life as a free spirit. On the other end of the spectrum, there's Jean (Julie Graham), the stern and matronly librarian who knows how to take charge. The youngest, Lucy (Sophie Rundle), has a photographic memory … but also an abusive husband. What they share is their past life as code breakers at Bletchley Park during World War II.

For nigh on a decade, each of the women has carefully curated a new life, one that doesn't involve her past or divulging the wartime secrets she swore to keep upon leaving her post. In other words, an ordinary life, although these women "couldn't be ordinary if you tried." So when reports of a serial killer come over the radio, Susan, never one to shy away from a puzzle, becomes concerned that the police have missed a pattern that suggests an additional victim. Thus begins a classic "getting the gang back together" thriller, but with four strong female leads. The crew, resistant at first, quickly comes on board when they realize additional lives may be at stake. The women pursue their leads with all the attention their former training affords them, even after their personal lives – so carefully curated and maintained – are put in jeopardy. And in three 45-minute parts, the case unfolds, and the women are absorbed deeper and deeper into the web of information, all while facing this mistrust and cluelessness of Scotland Yard.

The Bletchley Circle combines elements of some of the best shows on television today: the powerful women and gender dynamics of Mad Men, the addictive social ladders of Downton Abbey, and, above all, the impressive investigative work of BBC's Sherlock. If that's not a sufficient enough endorsement, add in an exceptional soundtrack, suited to each heart-pounding moment; quick, hard cuts that suggest a thoughtful eye toward suspense; and a well-executed costume design that's explicated more in the DVD's bonus interviews.

The Bletchley Circle has been renewed for a second season comprising two two-part stories, set to premiere in the fall. Catch up with these brilliant minds now, before they're another dozen moves ahead.

The Bletchley Circle (135 min) is available on DVD from PBS for $24.99.

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