Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Bletchley Circle

One of my many hobbies that I haven't written about in this blog yet is my love for British tv shows. I watch quite a lot of American television series as well, but some of my favorites are British, such as Sherlock and Doctor Who. I recently came across The Bletchley Circle while scrolling through Netflix and thought I would at least watch the first episode to see if I liked it. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that there are only 7 episodes in the entire series as it was canceled after the second series (first series has 3 episodes, the second series has 4). Nevertheless, I decided to watch the rest of the episodes because I was greatly intrigued by the series from the first episode alone.

The Bletchley Circle is a tale of four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. All staff were made to sign the Official Secrets Act which prevented them  from speaking about what they did during the war. Susan, the main character, constantly refers to having done, "clerical work" during the war, as a clear reference to her inability to speak about being a codebreaker. At the end of the war, the four women each continued their lives in their own ways. Seven years later, Susan, a woman who is not only extremely intelligent but very adept at determining and predicting patterns, thinks that she knows how to find the culprit of a recent string of kidnappings and murders in London. She reaches out to her former colleagues: Millie, the spunky one who is fiercely independent and is Susan's best friend; Lucy, the youngest of the group with a photographic memory and Jean, who still has many connections from her time supervising the girls at Bletchley Park and uses these to gather more information to help their investigation.

What makes this series so fresh and interesting to me is how life in the 1950's is portrayed. The women need to rely on physical files, maps, ledgers and of course, Lucy's photographic memory in order to shift through and find information. Their investigations last much longer than those in the 1 hour crime shows of the modern age. I am a big fan of Criminal Minds, however, it was refreshing to see the girls of Bletchley Park writing codes out by hand, drawing on maps to find the patterns, surrounding themselves with stacks of books and files in contrast to watching Garcia type away at her computer and a few minutes later, zero in on their prime suspect. As women, they are also largely ignored when they go to the police to try to tell them something is amiss. In one episode, the women contact the police because they believe a woman is missing but the policeman shrugs off the mess in the apartment by saying, "maybe she was spring cleaning." I loved these small details because they really helped make the setting all the more believable. While the police do eventually take part in investigations and listen to what they have to say (to be fair, not everyone ignores them. Many of the men in power seem genuinely perturbed and interested in what they have discovered), they only really take any action when the women have concrete evidence. 

Another aspect I quite liked about this series is the fact that Susan is married and so is Lucy. These two women show us two entirely different marital relationships that not only occur often in the 1950's, but that women can still relate to today. Susan is in a marriage where her husband is fair and kind to her. He does expect her to be available to take care of the children when needed (which she fails to do quite often during her investigations), but he is never rude or patronizing. In fact, when Susan finally reveals that she was at Bletchley as a codebreaker, he is shocked into silence. After the results of the investigation are revealed and it shows that Susan was right all along, the couple go home. When their children greet them, he proudly declares to them, "Your mother is a hero." I absolutely loved their relationship and I loved that once he learned about her past he realized that solving puzzles was a lot more than a pastime of Susan's, it was her specialty and he completely respected and praised her for it. On the opposite spectrum, Lucy is married to an abusive husband who speaks harshly to her in front of her friends and needs to know both where she is going and if she has completed her housework before leaving. At one point, he beats her severely and it's at that moment that the rest of the women interfere and offer Lucy a place to stay, relaying to her that she can leave her husband, she doesn't have to stay and take his abuse.

Overall, this show was really interesting. The cases were all easy to follow but involved many twists and turns that kept me entertained. Historical details are also used smoothly throughout the series (such as the girls being suspected of being Russian spies at one point). The girls themselves are all very different in personality but very intelligent. They are not really portrayed as fearless women however, as there are several points in investigations were some of them want to turn back or refuse to move forward because of what they have seen and/or due to the effects the investigation can have on their families. In the final two episodes, Susan is no longer around, having moved to Bombay due to her husbands job, but a new character is introduced, who also worked at Bletchley Circle. I quite liked the original 4 more as the new character fell a bit flat for me (maybe because she was only around for 2 episodes. Had I seen more of her, I may have gotten to like her character better.) But I would have definitely seen more of this series had it continued. I don't regret picking it up however and I can only hope that someday, a tv producer somewhere will decide to revive this series. 

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