Every now and again you sit down to watch a show and the sheer quality and brilliance of the writing, and the performances involved, makes you go “whoa.” Welcome to The Bletchley Circle a three-part series that appeared so briefly on PBS earlier in the year that I, and I suspect countless others, missed it completely. However The Bletchley Circle has now become available for streaming via Netflix. Do not hesitate; watch this show.

Set in post war Britain in the early 50’s, a time when rationing and the austerity caused by the conflict still impacts every day life, the story revolves around four women and their hunt for a killer. Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Sophie Rundle and Julie Graham play four former colleagues who worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Bletchley Park was the then secret government code and cypher school that intercepted and in many cases successfully read the communication of the Axis powers shortening, by most estimates, the war by at least a couple of years. Those stationed there were recruited from all forms of service for their ability with puzzles, crosswords and brainteasers.

All who served at Bletchley Park were required to sign the Official Secrets Act and were unable to talk about their experiences even to their spouses. And so after the war, these individuals returned to everyday life and in many cases a mundane one. Such is the set up for The Bletchley Circle where Susan, Millie, Lucy and Jean go about their daily business until Anna Maxwell Martin’s Susan spots a pattern in a series of recent murders in and around London.

Reuniting with her former colleagues, the women set about solving the case in the face of stereotypical police and general societal attitudes of the 50’s towards their abilities. Maxwell Martin is excellent and Stirling in particular lights up the screen whenever she appears, but the star of the piece is in many ways the era in which it takes place. Similar to the exquisite Race For The Double Helix, the Juliet Stevenson, Jeff Goldblum and Tim Pigott-Smith 1987 dramatization of the discovery of the structure of DNA, The Bletchley Circle beautifully portrays the moment in time between the end of the war and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

ITV in the UK and PBS have already announced that a second series is in the works for this stylish show and if the writing is of similar quality, this should be one of the highlights of 2014.

— Wallace Poulter