Thursday 3 July 2014

The Honourable Woman

We weren't all that crazy about Blick's previous dramatic outing in 2011, 'The Shadow Line'.  It was one of those intriguing but flawed pieces we wanted to like but....  'The Honourable Woman' has been trumpeted as this year's serious BAFTA contender with a stellar cast including Hollywood's Maggie Gyllenhaal and a storyline encompassing the unending conflict in the middle-east.

So far, this is a huge improvement on its predecessor, which was willfully opaque and overblown.  Not that this is the kind of drama you can snooze through, by any means, and nor does it deal with smaller themes.  Ms. Gyllenhaal plays Nessa Stein, who with her brother Ephraim (Andrew Buchan) directs the legacy of her rich Israeli father, who was killed in front of them when they were children, 29 years previously.  Nessa makes an enemy of a friend when she awards a communications contract for Palestine to a Palestinian.  Unknown to her, the recipient is already dead, having been murdered by killers who made it look like suicide.  Newly created a cross-party peer, Baroness Stein of Tilbury has secrets.  She tells us little more in her voice-over, but we're introduced at a steady pace to her bodyguard, her PA, her brother's family and a Foreign Office operative who knows her secret (Eve Best, from 'Shadow Line').  Another hangover from the other series is slightly rumpled, slightly sinister Stephen Rea as an about-to-be-retired spy who is drawn into the suspicious death, and who will no doubt have to call on his embittered ex (Lindsay Duncan) in the process.  Then there's the Israeli woman who helps Ephraim with his family, and has a past with Nessa in the Gaza Strip.  Whatever happened 8 years ago is catching up to the Steins by the end of the hour, leading Nessa to a tense, nighttime run through Hyde Park with unforeseen consequences.

Part one of eight and we'll keep watching.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderful as Nessa, with a flawless English accent and a performance of poise and gravitas as the self-possessed, super-rich but damaged businesswoman.  A sense of doom hangs around her, evidenced by protests that dog her even to a musical evening and a hounding by a radio presenter.  There's also the poignant music, which is currently balancing between adding atmosphere and instructing the audience that hey, this is tragic stuff, but is in danger of veering towards the latter.  Whatever the secrets are, Blick will no doubt unfold them in unexpected, cleverly-measured ways, and with the superb cast and the script thankfully understated, we're hoping this will be the rich experience it promises to be.

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