TV Review - The Honorable Woman

This series premiered in July 2014 on the Sundance Channel. It's a production of the BBC. It's comprised of eight episodes, each one-hour. It's slow and methodical. It deals with the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It also deals with how government forces or how those within government seek to manipulate and control situations, as well as how technology like broadband is very much the new battleground. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as the titular character named Nessa Stein. She won a Golden Globe this year for her portrayal. Written and directed by Hugo Blick, the program has been nominated for four Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Writing, Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Actress and Outstanding Miniseries.

In addition to Gyllenhaal, the show has a great cast of actors. Andrew Buchan (Cranford and Broadchurch) co-stars as Ephra Stein, the brother of Nessa and the son of Israeli immigrants who came to the United Kingdom. In fact, his father fled from Israel because of the conflict with Palestine and things he's done. Unfortunately, he couldn't flee far enough because the opening of the first episode is his murder by Palestinians, as Nessa and Ephra witness it as little children.

29 years later, Nessa and Ephra have created their own foundation, which Nessa now runs. Their foundation wants to build or establish broadband for high-speed Internet in the Middle East in attempt to promote education and progress in that part of the world, as well as foster better relations between the Israelis and Palestinians. In a surprise, instead of awarding the Israeli contractor and family-friend named Shlomo, played by Igal Naor (House of Saddam and 300: Rise of an Empire), Nessa awards a Palestinian contractor.

In a well-delivered speech in the first episode, Nessa does this to a crowded room, but there are two noticeable absences. The first absence is the Palestinian contractor himself. The second absence is the little boy who is the son of Ephra's live-in housekeeper. The disappearance of these two people kicks off a mystery and a conspiracy that was eight years in the making.

That mystery and conspiracy are complicated and possess a lot of intrigue. It's all very well-written and extremely smart, but I'm not convinced how compelling it is overall. With the exception of the first and last episode, the majority of it is paced slowly and is somewhat boring. Blick does manage to end each episode with a cliffhanger that does help to pull viewers along.

The first episode in fact ends in a long, exhaustive, foot chase that's exciting not only because you're not sure where it's going, but also because Blick photographs it like it's a film noir, utilizing great angles and shadows. The cliffhangers in the other episodes are typically acts of violence, including kidnapping, rape and murder.

Blick does write some very decent drama, particularly for his predominantly female cast. Two-time, Oscar nominee Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds and Albert Nobbs) and Eve Best (Prime Suspect 7 and Nurse Jackie) are heavily featured and they're allowed to shine in that decent drama. Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd and Pirate Radio) who plays Ephra's wife, Rachel, isn't as heavily featured but her brief moments on screen certainly pack a punch.

Other than Gyllenhaal, the female actor who is really outstanding is Lubna Azabal (Paradise Now and Incendies) who plays Atika Halabi, the aforementioned, live-in housekeeper. She's a hidden weapon, literally and figuratively. She's not used to her full potential until the eighth and final episode, which is a bit of a mistake. We get a brief glimpse of Atika's power, but it's shelved until the end.

I understand that Gyllenhaal's character Nessa needed to go on a journey that deliberately built to the confrontation in the eighth episode, which Blick crafts fantastically. It's just on the back-burner for too long, and what Blick has on the front-burner simmers for a time that ultimately wastes it.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 8 eps.
Available on Sundance TV.
Also on Netflix Watch Instant.

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