“The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” (2018)

Television Drama

8 Episodes

Created by: Guy Burt

Featuring: Julie Graham, Rachael Stirling, Crystal Balint, Chanelle Peloso, Ben Cotton, Jennifer Spence, Peter Benson, Colin Lawrence and Agape Mngomezulu

Mille: “What criminal doesn’t leave patters? Life is patterns”

Released this month on DVD is the follow up to the excellent mini series “The Bletchley Circle” (2012-2014) which was set in 1952–53, about four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park. Dissatisfied with the officials’ failure to investigate complex crimes, the women join to investigate for themselves.

This new series entitled “The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” (2018) is a spin-off of the previous series and follows Millie (Rachael Stirling) and Jean (Julie Graham) as they travel to San Francisco and continue to use their code-breaking skills to solve murders.

This new series covers a wide variety of subjects such as homosexuality, the coming Vietnam War, infidelity, serial killers and of course murder. It also attempts to set the stage in the US of coming events which it does in the clumsiest of ways which is a shame considering it costs little to not only get historical facts correct but to also use the narrative in a smart way. 

Where the strength of the series lies, as it did with the original is the way the main characters interact with each other as well as the fact that the actresses are all excellent seasoned as well as being as original as they can be with constraints that exist now as well as those that existed in the time period where this is set. Even though the absence of Anna Maxwell Martin is surely noticeable as she is one of the bigger English television stars going today the fact that Julie Graham and Rachael Stirling are along for the ride more than helps cover the gap that Martin creates. As well as acting as an anchor for audiences to relate to from the previous series both Graham and Stirling are great actresses who like Martin are mainstays of English television. In particular Graham who has been acting for over four decades knows exactly who she is playing as well as what kind of show she is in and adjusts her performance for the genre, that is a historical who done it. Of course, the same thing can be said for Stirling but of course she is playing a slightly different version of her character that is less three dimensional than Grahams. 

The new setting in San Francisco does open the narrative up as well as give audiences something very different to submerge themselves in as the show has been moved forward somewhat with the loss of a character. It does also mean that it is more natural to move on with brand new characters and situations that would have proven difficult if the setting had remained in the UK. The stories have not been perfect as some of the social commentary can feel like it is shoe horned in, but overall I really enjoyed this new series, not only that it has been renewed for another season which means any deficiencies should be ironed out given time and reflection.

Episodes:

Presidio: 1942, London, England. Code-breaker Claire Hopkins, on the eve of being transferred to Bristol after purposely disposing of an American communication, is found murdered with her tongue cut out and a mysterious symbol drawn on her hand. Fast forward fourteen years, and former colleagues Millie and Jean learn of the murders of two women in San Francisco in identical circumstances. Jean and Millie travel to San Francisco to try to make contact with a former American codebreaker, ‘Major Sixth’, whom Jean had been in regular communication with during the war. Jean learns that ‘Major Sixth’ is in fact Iris Bearden, wife of honoured US Armed Forces sergeant Marcus Bearden. Iris introduces Jean and Millie to Hailey Yarner, one of the youngest codebreakers at the time of the Americans joining the war. As the four women meet to try and work out the killer’s pattern, a third victim is discovered and Iris begins to fear for her son, Dennis, a civil rights activist, who is part of a group opposing property developers bull-dozing their district, Fillmore—which just happens to be the killer’s next target.

Wake: With San Francisco in the grip of a serial killer, the four allies work together to expose a sinister conspiracy at the highest levels – and in the process, forge a powerful bond.

Charlotte’s Web: Newly-weds driving on a country road find a body, apparently the victim of a hit and run. She was the unhappy wife living the country club life. Iris, Millie, Jean and Hailey investigate the discovery of an apparent code book, and discover a nest of lies and deceit.

Madhouse: The apparent code book isn’t what it seems to be, but it still provides clues. Detective Bryce makes an arrest and Millie has a date.

Not Cricket: When a bloodied and bruised stranger collapses on Jean and Millie’s doorstep, they find themselves drawn into a complex maze of problems involving a gang of violent drug dealers and a secret homosexual cult operating out of the newspaper small ads. But as they try to figure out how the two organisations could be connected, Millie’s cousin Edward becomes the next victim. As she and Jean stake-out the drug dealers’ secret hideout, Millie is shocked to witness Detective Bryce leasing with their leader.

Iron in War: Unsure of who they can really trust, Jean and Millie are shocked to discover they are facing deportation, and suspect that Detective Bryce may have been instrumental in ensuring their fate. Hayley tries to convince her former boss to place a further ad in the newspaper in an attempt to flush out the dealers. As the gang manage to convince Rusty to help them, the two warring factions finally meet during a showdown at the Big Bop club.

Fog of War: Iris and Hayley’s attendance at a soireè involving a world-renowned cellist ends in unexpected disaster when a Russian diplomat collapses and dies right in front of Iris’ eyes. Meanwhile, Jean is pleased to discover than an old acquaintance from England, Nigel Beamish, is in Vancouver working for the British consulate. But after meeting Nigel for a romantic afternoon picnic, Jean discovers she has picked up the attention of some unwanted admirers.

In for a Pound: Iris, Hayley and Millie ask Olivia for help cracking the cipher which could potentially reveal where the Russians are holding Jean. Hayley realises she has been betrayed and watches on in horror as her cipher machine disappears in the arms of the mysterious Ilyia. Iris is forced to choose between her head and her heart when the girls track the Russians to a private airfield and find that Deborah has secretly been in league with them all along.

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