THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE, SEASON 2 – Blu-ray review

Season 2 of “The Bletchley Circle” takes us back to London, circa 1952, and back in the company of everyone’s favorite quartet of former female code-breakers turned amateur sleuths. Okay, maybe not everyone’s. And I mean former code-breakers, not former females. They’re all still female. They worked breaking German code at Bletchley Hall during WWII, so that’s the former part. Not the female thing. The amateur sleuth thing is new. Or newer, anyway, than the female thing…so….

Wow, rough first paragraph. Too flippant, very unprofessional, sorry about that. Let’s start over.

Susan, Millie, Lucy and Jean ARE…THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE. In a world where the upper lips are stiff and the …oh, I’ve gotten off track again. So, again, sorry. Here we go, for real this time.

“The Bletchley Circle, Season 2” gives us two two-episode mysteries featuring the female foursome, whose diverse talents for maps and codes and memorization served them in good stead in Season 1. In the first, “Blood On Their Hands,” they race against time to come to the aid of an imprisoned friend facing execution for a murder she didn’t commit. Their investigation reveals a deeper conspiracy to cover up a fatal accident. In the second, “Uncustomed Goods,” the unemployed Millie tries her hand at distributing for a black-market privateer, and the four swing into polite action when she gets in over her head in a human-trafficking scheme.

The show carries the usual good-looking gloss we’ve come to expect of BBC/ITV period drama. Costumes, sets, automobiles, unused for a decade but still somehow repairable Enigma code-breaking machines all look reasonably spot on (at least to me, anyway). This season touches on serious subject matter—medical experiments on unwilling subjects, exploitation of immigrants. And there’s a new member to the team, filling an absence left after the first episode.

But where Season 1 had something more on its mind than just the mystery –a thread of social commentary on women’s post-war roles, the personal dilemma of getting on with life after A Great Event –that comfortable gloss seems to have settled in more like a shellac, encasing everything in a pleasant but airless nostalgia. It seems clear that the filmmakers always had a series in mind, but settling for the pleasant surprise success of Season 1 seems much the better option that this disappointing exercise.

This time around, series creator and writer Guy Burt saddles his cast with frustratingly uneven scripts that seem relatively convincing at one moment, and hopelessly unreliable the next. While the mysteries themselves carry enough twists and turns to satisfy some, they are also riddled with unlikely character action and some illogical, much too helpful plotting.

Anna Maxwell Martin again shines as Susan, the nominal leader of the group in the first series, but here unwisely pushed more to the side. In fact, Martin is completely absent from the last two episodes, as her character goes abroad with her civil servant husband at the end of episode one. Martin’s spiny intensity, and the moral dilemma of her balancing act between family and justice, gives this second series what little juice it has.

The rest of the cast seem to be going through the paces without working up too much of a sweat, as Burt and directors Jamie Payne and Sarah Harding can’t really seem to think of much to DO with them as characters. The episodes seem truncated, too easily resolved in their ninety minutes, but somehow also never seems to get any real momentum under way. Maybe the leads actresses are weighted down by the handbags they carry everywhere, even when they are breaking in to a locked building in the middle of the night (I know, I know, it’s just what women of that time DID, but Lord does it look silly).

Video:
The Blu-ray of “The Bletchley Circle, Season 2” is presented on two discs, in High Definition 1080i, in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. My review screener has several moments of screen-lock early on disc one, and there was one noticeable segment of pixellation during a camera pan. Otherwise, the discs present no visual problems, and accurately reflect the color schemes and lighting of the filmmakers. There is an option for English SDH subtitles.

Audio:
The audio track is an unremarkable, but satisfying stereo. There is a nice clarity to the music soundtrack, if you must know.

Extras:
A rewarding 25-minute promotional video, featuring interviews with cast and crews, and most interestingly, comments from a real WWII Bletchley Park code-breaker on what it meant to carry the secret of her wartime work.

Parting thoughts:
Given the enjoyable success of Season One, Season Two of “The Bletchley Circle” is a frustrating disappointment and doesn’t bode well for the show’s future.

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