Prime Suspect: The Scent of Darkness (TV Movie 1995) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A series of brutal sex murders disturbingly similar to the pattern of Superintendent Jane Tennison's first major case leads to the awful suggestion that she may have caught the wrong man the first time.

  • A series of horrific murders of women in a pattern very similar to a previous series of murder Police Detective Jane Tennison investigated lends support to a growing popular feeling that she arrested the wrong man, who has always claimed his innocence. Jane refuses to accept that possibility and orders her team to investigate the new murders to the exclusion of reviewing the older ones. The growing friction of the suspicions of her fellow officers and her own convictions lead to her being taken off the case as being biased. Now, she must try to restore her professional reputation while investigating elements of the case on her own.

  • Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison investigates a murder that has all of the earmarks of a killer, George Marlow, she put away some time ago. Marlow has always maintained his innocence but Jane concludes that it must be a copycat killer, especially after she learns that the details of the Marlow killings were detailed in a book. The DCI on the case, Tom Mitchell, thinks that they should re-open the cases for which Marlow was convicted and consider the possibility that an error was made but Jane flatly refuses. As the killings continue - the second victim is a 16 year-old girl - pressure mount and Jane's intransigence forces Detective Chief Superintendent Mike Kernan to take her off the case. Jane will not be tied down however and continues to investigate the case on her own, getting her into further trouble with her superiors. The presence of gardenia scented perfume on the victims gives her the vital clue she needs to solve the mystery and identify the killer.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • A prison guard walks down a hallway and enters a cell. Inside is George Marlow (Tim Woodward), who gives the guard a letter to mail. Marlow then picks up a book about his own case called "Not Proven". Mr. and Mrs. Branwell (Christopher Ashley and Penelope Beaumont) are calling their daughter Christine's friends after she didn't come home when she was supposed to. They report their daughter missing to the police. Some kids meet under a railway bridge. One owes another money and is knocked over. He lands next to the railway tracks, where he sees a black plastic bag containing a dead body. Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) is in a meeting with several male police bosses, complaining that a female police officer is being overlooked for promotions. Later, Tennison meets her lover, Patrick Schofield (Stuart Wilson), at a play; they are both late. Soon they are in a bathtub together, Tennison talking about justice and retribution, when she is called to investigate the dead body.

    Tennison arrives at the scene, where officer Tom Mitchell (Christopher Fulford) tells her it is a woman's body, which was dumped there after being violently killed. She returns home, but finds Schofield gone. She calls Richard Haskons (Richard Hawley) to have him meet her; he is with his two young children. They both see the pathologist, who shows them the stab wounds and marks of rope and iron clamps on the body. Tennison looks frightened when she mentions to Haskons the similarities between the injuries they have just seen and those in the case they previously investigated together, in which George Marlow was convicted. We also see Tennison at police archives looking over photographs from the old case. Next, Tennison is in the office of Chief Superintendent Kernan (John Benfield), requesting that she be allowed to handle the case. She goes to meet the team, and Tom Mitchell gives her the known details, with an abrupt attitude that annoys her. The dead woman is Margery Miller, a local woman and widow of a policeman. On the preceding Tuesday she was at the police social club, left on her own, but never returned home. Friday morning, she was dead.

    Tennison talks to Haskons about the book published by an author claiming George Marlow was innocent, "Not Proven". She thinks someone may have used the book as inspiration for a copycat murder. Mr. and Mrs. Branwell give a televised plea for help in finding their daughter. We see George Marlow watching with fellow inmates. Reading the book she talked about, Tennison discusses the case with Schofield who says that as a psychiatrist he finds it unlikely that someone copied a murder in detail. At the station, Tennison is updated on progress on identifying footprints from the crime scene. She is also informed that a Meditteranean-looking man was seen in a Ford Escort early Friday morning; she blames Mitchell for not telling her sooner. Some of the staff have caught on to the links with the Marlow case, and Tennison tells them that Marlow was guilty and no one should think otherwise.

    Tennison wakes up with Schofield. She says it is the first time she has ever wanted to stay home from work and that she will not let work stand in the way of another relationship. Elsewhere, Mr. and Mrs. Branwell are informed of their daughter's death. The body of sixteen-year-old Christine has been found in a similar state as Margery's. At the station, a cigarette-smoking Tennison goes over the facts with the squad. The girl must have been kept prisoner for three days before being killed. Also, traces of perfume were found in both women's hair. An officer suggests they check out a Greek man who the book on the Marlow murders claims might have committed the crimes, but Tennison refuses.

    Forensic identifies the scent in the women's hair as a gardenia perfume. Neither woman used that sort of perfume. Officer Mitchell complains to Tennison that she is not willing to follow leads that don't match her own ideas. She refutes the criticism, but is soon on her way with Haskons to look into the Greek man, Andreas Hulenkinis (Darrell D'Silva), who is the nephew of the proprietor of the garage where two of Marlow's murders took place. They go to the garage, now used by a small business, and Haskons questions Andreas at the cafe where he works. Andreas left the country for several years and has returned only recently. He says he knows nothing about the case and does not drive an Escort. Tennison comes to dinner at Schofield's place. She discovers the Marlow book on his desk and is upset that he has read it because of its nasty portrayal of her.

    The next day Tennison sees Kernan, who has had a complaint from Mitchell and shows her newspaper headlines with leaked information from the case. He takes her off the case against her objections. Mitchell takes over and orders Andreas and his uncle brought in for questioning. There's no firm link between Andreas and the van or the footprints, but he doesn't mind. Haskons details Christine's path home on the night of her abduction and centres on a car driven by a uniformed policeman seen in the vicinity with someone possibly in the back seat. We briefly see George Marlow in his cell sticking a newspaper article on the recent murders on the wall.

    Kernan meets Commander Trayner (Stafford Gordon) and Thorndike (Stephen Boxer). Thorndike is to conduct a discreet investigation into the Marlow case; Kernan's objections are ignored. Tennison is at a bar with Schofield. He tells her he looked in a file of hers after she fell asleep one night and came across a detail from the Marlow investigation: Gardenia scent was in fact among items found at the garage, and a sweet scent was noted on several of the victims. Since this information was never public the recent murders could not have been copied from the book. Meanwhile, the media start to speak of miscarriage of justice in Marlow's case.

    When Mitchell asks for the Marlow file the next day, Tennison has to pick it up at Schofield's place. She lets herself in and overhears the answering machine recording a message from Mark Whitehouse, the author of "Not Proven", who Schofield had denied knowing. She finds files on Marlow and herself in Schofield's filing cabinet. Kernan meets with Thorndike, who thinks the investigation should be opened up to include the old murders. Mitchell puts this into effect, though it means spreading the squad's resources thin. Tennison arranges to meet Haskons and asks him to provide her with information. Then she meets with Mark Whitehouse (Ray Fearon). He tells her how he met Moyra Henson, Marlow's former wife, and came to write the book. Kernan picks Tennison up in the street and tells her she has his support, but she has to be careful. At night she speaks to Schofield on the phone, but she is disillusioned with him.

    Another woman, Lynn Matthews, has gone missing. The police set out to find her, fearing she may be in the hands of the killer. The investigation is going nowhere, and Haskons is frustrated. Tennison visits George's mother, Doris Marlow (Joyce Redman), in Blackpool. She takes her for a walk on the pier, and the senile woman tells her fragments of an affair she once had and how George discovered it. The gardenia is the perfume she wore back then. Schofield is seen meeting with Thorndike, then comes to see Tennison. He explains that he has never met with Whitehouse and that his file on Tennison was for research for a book and no longer of use. Tennison doesn't trust him and throws him out.

    Tennison visits George Marlow in prison. She knows that the perfume confirms that Marlow was guilty and that only someone with access to him could have done the new murders. She tells him about her visit to Blackpool. He is upset, but doesn't tell her anything. Back at the station, leads are turning into dead ends. Jane Tennison is summoned to Commander Trainer's office. She is suspended from all duties because of her unauthorized visit with Marlow.

    Haskons visits Tennison early next morning. He has been looking into George Marlow's fellow prisoners from the past years. One of them is now free and living alone in the London area. Mitchell has told him not to investigate. He asks for Tennison's help, and they go to see the man only to find that he is not their guy. At the station, the squad finally has a list of police officers who drive cars like the one seen in Christine's neighbourhood and who were on duty at that time. Mitchell has each of their homes searched. While looking at Schofield's file on her, Tennison sees a picture of Moyra Henson and has the idea that it might have been Moyra who told someone about the perfume; she asks Schofield for help.

    In prison, George Marlow speaks to the prison guard (Pip Donaghy). He asks him if he will kill the woman today, and the guard turns towards him. We realize he is the killer and Marlow has just found out. He says he does not have the strength to go on, but Marlow convinces him he must finish the job. Tennison and Schofield visit Whitehouse to ask about Moyra. At the police station, the searches have brought nothing, and things are desperate. Then Tennison calls. The squad rush to the prison guard's home, and they are in time to save Lynn Matthews.

    Haskons and Mitchell interrogate the prison guard, Len. He tells them it was Moyra who told him about the perfume once after she visited Marlow; they had a relationship. After Moyra died, he wanted to feel what it was like to do what Marlow did. He says it turned out that it felt like being in hell.

    Tennison stands before a disciplinary committee headed by Commander Trayner. Trayner says her actions during the case was a serious breach of conduct, but since she also helped solve the case and save a life she is let off with a reprimande. In the street Patrick Schofield waits. She had mentioned to him that she would resign, but he understands that she won't. In the evening they go to a police party together. Schofield tells Tennison about the visit Thorndike paid him to ask him to inform on Tennison. Tennison asks Thorndike to dance and lets him know exactly how she feels about him.

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