As they did in America, women in Britain stepped up big time during World War II to help the cause in various capacities. Among these were the many women who worked at Bletchley Park, which became the base of operations for the British government’s efforts to break German codes. Housing a collection of some of the greatest minds of England, Bletchley Park featured women as a large part of its workforce during its wartime operation. However, as also happened in America, once the men returned from combat, it was back to the home for the women. But they had gotten that taste of independence, and contribution, and for many, it must have been hard to go back to being restricted to their old roles and feelings of strict domesticity. That’s where the protagonists of The Bletchley Circle, a thrilling new three-part mystery series, are.
Set in 1952 Britain, The Bletchley Circle follows Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), Millie (Rachael Stirling), Lucy (Sophie Rundle) and Jean (Julie Graham), who were part of the famed Bletchley Park group during the war, but are now back in civilian life, forced to keep their intelligence work a secret from all, including family and friends. When a series of brutal murders begins, however, the team reunites to use their talents to decode the pattern behind the crimes. With the police unaware of the women’s backgrounds in intelligence, they do not take their theories seriously, so this particular Bletchley Circle relies on each other to seek justice. As Susan says, “[The killer is] making a pattern and he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. If we can crack it, we’ll be able to see what his next move will be. Just like knowing where the German army will be in three days’ time. We can get ahead of him and stop him before he kills again.”
A critical hit when it aired in Britain last year, The Bletchley Circle has a vivid, lovely postwar England look and feel about it, and should appeal to those interested in nostalgia and history, as well as those who enjoy a fine mystery and suspenseful thrills. But it also has much to say about the unsung way that women began to embrace and use talents discovered during the war while the men were away, even though they may have been expected to quietly put them aside once the hostilities ceased.
The Bletchley Circle airs Sundays at 10pm ET on PBS, from April 21-May 5 (check local listings).
The Bletchley Circle image: © Laurence Cendrowicz/World Productions