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Vera, Set 4

Acorn Media // Unrated // October 28, 2014
List Price: $59.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted November 4, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Vera Set 4 DVD Review

Based upon the popular novels written by author Ann Cleeves, Vera is an equally successful television series (which often brings in over 6 million viewers) and that has garnered a lot of attention for the lead performance from the great Brenda Blethyn (Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice). The series is an episodic mystery of the week program at its core and each new installment unfolds a new mystery for the characters to solve. Though based on a book series, many episodes of the show are not based upon published books and divert into their own new storylines that involve these beloved literary characters from the pages of Cleeves.

Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn) is a tough and determined Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) working for the (fictional) population of Northumberland with their city police. Vera's work is to do the sleuthing and piece-by-piece unfolding of mysteries by asking various individuals connected to the latest crime about the person or events that unfolded and to get to the bottom of it all. In each episode, Vera is the key to solving the mystery and goes about her incredible work with immense ability and with her unique charm.  She's a strong-headed and smart person; arguably the most essential in the work of her company and she goes about each day with as much wit and skill as the day before.

Her companion on her job is Detective Sergeant (DS) Joe Ashworth (David Leon), a person whom she finds a bit of a connection to (even if they tend to have small quarrels). It seems as though the two are close in a mother-son sort of way, but not in a paternal sense. Sensing that Vera sometimes needs a little help and guidance from him, Joe tends to look out for her, helping guide her through some issues she has with her own personal demons - her alcohol problem and issues with her health that she struggles with and often pushes aside while working on her cases.

Brenda Blethyn is excellent in the main role. Her acting is immensely good here. She manages to delve into this character with confidence, creating a deeper layer to the part than what the writing alone offers, though one would expect nothing less from a talent who has been nominated several times for Oscars in film roles. The characters mannerisms are brought to life by Blethyn's smart considerations as a gifted actor: thusly, the storytelling of Vera remaining entertaining to behold for television audiences. Vera is a quality mystery program which continues to entertain with its new forth season.

Season 4 continues to focus primarily upon new stories not previously written by the original author. Two of the four episodes were written by Martha Hiller, who does a good job when it comes to creating complicated and interested mysteries which follow a compelling storyline down to the conclusion. If viewed strictly as standalone mysteries, these are interesting and absolutely impressive. However, I was a bit disappointed by the fact that this season was so short, even if it's length was the same as previous outings, largely because previous character development has been pushed even further away from the writers/producers priority list and absolutely nothing really happens across the season to expand the series from a character-run standpoint. The characters, including Vera, have become secondary to the mysteries.

Nonetheless, for any audience members looking for a well-done program when it comes down to production values,  quality performances, excellent cinematography, quality mysteries, and well done direction there will be plenty to enjoy here. It's just a shame not much is being done to further the character stories more as it used to be a bigger focus of the show. There are also characters introduced this season that felt poorly integrated and that had barely any dialogue, development, or personalities to add to the program either.  The emphasis isn't there anymore. (This was especially disappointing for Season 4 as David Leon will not return in Season 5 as Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth.)  It's worth noting that this area disappoints even if this is a show that still excels in many areas and will nonetheless entertain as a mystery program of note for numerous strengths).

Season 4 episodes include:

On Harbour Street is a chilling mystery where Detective Ashworth's young daughter becomes a witness to a murder scene when a woman is found stabbed to death on a train, which the family had used frequently... and as things unravel in the investigations, it becomes clear that the mystery leads to Harbour Street and the residents who inhabit the land of this area. It is up to Ashworth and Vera seek to solve the mystery. This episode was the first to be done since the second seasn to be based on one of Cleeves source novels (leaving only one more book currently available to be adapted).  

Protected is an episode in which a professional young housing salesperson is found dead on a beach, and then things are looked into within the family and an arcade store owner who holds a grudge because of a lost family member that may have had a connection so many years ago. Can Vera come down to the bottom of it all? And was the murder a case of business rivalries or was it something to do with another death years ago? In seeking out the resolution, Vera's skills are put to the test.

The Deer Hunters begins with a fast race between off-road vehicles and an unexpected result at the end of the race. What happened at that moment? As the story unfolds, it turns out that a man is shot dead with a single bullet, but was it a murder or was it connected to a hunting party made up of deer hunters? The mystery unfolds as Vera looks into the connections between family and friends who were involved in the deer hunting and what it might have to do with the death... and how much it has to do with hunting or with something else that they must unfold in their perilous investigations.

Death of a Family Man unravels when a man is found dead as an apparent suicide, but was reportedly happy according to those they inquiry into about the death, a post-mortem result shows it was actually murder. And that the death might have had to do a lot more with the smuggling of alcoholic beverages and the problems with business associates connected to the family. Is everything as it seems with the partners associated with the newly departed's own business dealings? And what happened to cause a rift, if it wasn't all peachy-keen,  and the murder of "family man" who others thought of as a happy business-smart person? Vera is determined to find out.

The DVD:


Vera: Set 4 arrives on DVD by Acorn Media with a four disc set containing one feature length episode per disc. One would think that this decision means that the encoding quality would be good because of the idea of separate discs for the episodes, but the quality is unfortunately inconsistent. Just as with Set 3 of the series, color reproduction and detail is often good but the series also has difficulty with dark scenes and there are numerous spots where bad compression artifacts distract from the presentation. Discerning picture quality enthusiasts will be a bit disappointed by the quality. While I would give a slight edge to series 4 having a slightly better PQ presentation, there's no mistake that this is still a troubled release in the PQ department. This is a bit underwhelming for such a modern production, and at times it almost seems to just be the level of quality one would expect from standard steaming services.


The English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio presentation is basic but does a good job with the dialogue reproduction.  There isn't much fancy audio-work here and the series is sparse with music and sound effects, so this isn't really a show where one should expect a stunning and memorable audio design. The audio works just fine though with this drama mystery series.

English SDH subtitles are provided for the deaf and hard of hearing.


The only "bonus features" on this release consist of photo galleries showing a slideshow style group of production photos.

Final Thoughts:

Vera: Set 4 presents the fourth season of the acclaimed mystery series with a new batch of fun episodes. The mysteries contained are all interesting, self-contained, and worthwhile episodes which will entertain audiences who consider themselves fans of the show and the characters that populate the storylines.

Unfortunately, this set has less character development than Set 3, and the actor David Leon (who performed as Detective Sergeant Joe Ashworth for seasons 1-4) will not be returning for the fifth season next year, and the character's story arc is not resolved during this season. This is the main area where the season disappoints and is a bit less satisfying than what came before. If, however,  this show is only rated based on the quality of the mysteries then the series has continued to be excellent across the board. The production values, acting, and overall quality of the mysteries is what can keep audiences interested even if this season is a step down in quality from what came before to some degree.  Fans can now look forward to Season 5, which will premiere on ITV in the UK in December - with the US dates to follow).


Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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