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The role was created specifically for Mirren, as a means for her to try something a bit different from her Inspector Tennison character on the popular Prime Suspect series. The series was a collaborative effort of Granada Television (UK) and PBS (US). It was broadcast in the US PBS's Masterpiece Theatre in December 1997.
Maggie Sheridan (Mirren), a washed-up blues vocalist from the 1960s who had long since stopped performing, had settled into a comfortable life on the Dublin estate of the father of her childhood friend, Sir Charles Stafford (Iain Cuthbertson). When Sir Charles is murdered in what appears to be a bungled robbery (in which a valuable sixteenth century painting is stolen), Maggie is drawn into the world of illegal art trade in an effort to solve the mystery and avenge her friend's murder, donning the persona of Polish Countess Magdelena Kreschinskaá.
The story centers around Judith Beheading Holofernes, the masterwork of Artemisia Gentileschi, who was a 17th century female Italian painter who survived a rape. The painting fictionally travels to Dublin and New York City, and Gentileschi's tragic story eventually figures into the plot. There are other visual references to paintings in the film.