PAINTED LADY. Joint production of Granada Television (UK) and PBS (US). Broadcast in the UK, December 1997. Two-part mini-series, approximately 3 1/2 hours without commercials. Broadcast in US on Masterpiece Theatre, April-May 1998. Helen Mirren, Iain Glen, Franco Nero, Michael Maloney, Lesley Manville, Iain Cuthbertson, Barry Barnes, Michael Liebmann, John Kavanagh. Writer: Allan Cubitt. Director: Julian Jarrold.

   From what I’ve read about this particular production, this was designed to be a showcase for Helen Mirren’s acting talents after she’d finished five years of playing DCI/Supt. Jane Tennison on Prime Suspect.

   And display them she does, with Mirren first appearing as Maggie Sullivan, a more-or-less involuntarily retired folk-rock singer staying in Ireland in the lodge house of her benefactor, Charles Stafford, then after his murder, transforming herself into a (supposedly) wealthy Polish countess Magdelena Kreschinska√ɬ° in order to enter the fast-paced world of fine art in London.

   Her objective: to track down the only painting that was stolen in the aborted robbery that turned tragically to Stafford’s death. Supporting her with the funds to begin the masquerade are her half-sister and her husband, both notables in London’s art circles, and agreeing to her plan only with amusing doubts. Her purpose: to obtain the money Stafford’s son owes a local Irish gangster, and the reason the robbery was staged in the first place.

   The actors, the photography and the setting are all top notch — a statement that includes Franco Nero as a Italian art dealer whose path crosses that of the countess in more ways than one — a fact that accounts for the rave reviews this TV mini-series has gained from most, but not all sources.

   And therein I also am in the minority. Those of us who prefer stories that make sense, that aren’t wrapped up in five minutes at the end after watching a slow and deliberately paced work of television for well over three hours, and yes, dare I say it, more bloody violence than I expected to see in a very elegant tale of high art and sophisticated people.

   The latter could be forgiven, though, if some effort had been into making a coherent whole out of a lot of very nice pieces, and I do mean mean nice. Some scenes are extremely well done. I wish I could be more positive about this, but in all honesty, I can’t.