The Honourable Woman, BBC1, Maggie Gyllenhaal

It’s a dangerous road for The Honourable Woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★½

BBC2: starts Thursday, 3 July, 9pm

Story: Nessa Stein’s father was a Zionist arms procurer. As children, she and her brother Ephra witness his assassination. Later, as an adult, inheriting her father’s company, she inverts its purpose from supplying arms to laying broadband cable networks between Israel and the West Bank – a decision that makes her many powerful enemies…

THE SHADOW LINE was not as big a hit as Broadchurch or Happy Valley, but the BBC2 cop thriller from producer/writer/director Hugo Blick was one of the most distinctive and stunning crime series of 2012.

It has been a tantalising wait to see what he would come up with next, particularly when a stellar cast was announced for his follow-up, The Honourable Woman, with names such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Stephen Rea, Katharine Parkinson and more.

Well, the eight-parter is now just a few weeks away, and I can confirm that it’s another superb intrigue from Blick, though different from The Shadow Line.

Maggie Gyllenhall as Nessa

Maggie Gyllenhall, with a very good Brit accent for her first TV project, is Nessa Stein, who has inherited her assassinated Israeli father’s business. Where he dealt in guns, Nessa embarks on a more ethical approach to business, installing broadband cable to Palestinians and Israelis.

Nessa Stein (MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL) The Honourable Woman BBC
Nessa is the enigma at the centre of the thriller

This desire to build connectivity and understanding is worthy, but it generates for Nessa a hornets’ nest of enemies and deadly dealings. To start, when she selects a Palestinian businessman to take on the next phase of the project, he commits suicide on the day she announces the deal.

Suspicious? Well, the Israeli she had previously worked with is enraged, the British secret service suspect Mossad of murder, while the Metropolitan police, the FBI and US military also stick their various oars in.

Hugo Blick’s the master of TV suspense

The first episode pulls off the feat of being hard to follow but gripping at the same time. And once again Blick proves inspired at creating a disorientating, threatening mood that draws you in.

By episode two, the story is easier to follow but still full of mystery and danger. Blick is the master of the set piece moments, and here there is a terrific sequence in which an FBI agent is not sure if she has been betrayed and has to go on the run. The writer/director loves telling the story visually, played out with music or a voiceover.

Blick also clearly relishes writing roles for Stephen Rea, who was breathtaking as the menacing Gatehouse in The Shadow Line. He steals the show again, this time as the soon-to-be-sacked spy Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle.

Lindsay Duncan and Janet McTeer

If he’s not delivering killer lines – ‘Haven’t seen anything like that since David Nixon and Ali Bongo’ – he’s pursing his lips and raising a dubious eyebrow. His scenes with Lindsay Duncan (who plays his ex-wife) and Janet McTeer (boss and ex-lover) are lip-smackingly delicious.

While The Shadow Line also had many scenes that had to be relished and was hugely entertaining, it stretched a little too far by the end.

The Honourable Woman is just as riveting, but with its interplay between several fascinating women – particularly Nessa and the nanny Atika, who were once kidnapped together and are haunted by it – and its tangled plot, it will be interesting to see if Blick’s latest drama will be resolved with more cohesion.

Either way, it is a further sign that we’re being spoiled by a glut of excellent TV dramas right now, no doubt fuelled by The Killing, Breaking Bad and other imports.

Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal Nessa Stein, Lubna Azabal Atika Halabi, Eve Best Monica Chatwin, Andrew Buchan Ephra Stein, Lindsay Duncan Anjelica Hayden-Hoyle, Janet McTeer Dame Julia Walsh, Tobias Menzies Nathaniel Bloom, Igal Naor Shlomo Zahary, Genevieve O’Reilly Frances Pirsig, Katherine Parkinson Rachel Stein, Stephen Rea Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle

See also…
The Shadow Line review
Hugo Blick interviewed by Bafta

Follow @crimetimeprev

Homeland — Killer TV no.45

Showtime, Series 1 2011, series 2 2012, series 3 2013, series 4 2014
‘My name is Nicholas Brody and I’m a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. I have a wife, and two kids, who I love. By the time you watch this, you’ll have read a lot of things about me, about what I’ve done, and so I wanted to explain myself, so that you’ll know the truth.’ – Nicholas Brody
Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, David Harewood, Mandy Patinkin
Identikit: CIA officer Carrie Mathison suspects that a US Marine, Nicholas Brody, who’s been a prisoner of al-Qaeda for eight years but has now been rescued, may have been turned into a terrorist targeting the USA.


Taut, clever and character-driven thriller with Damian Lewis as the war hero returning to the US after eight years as a PoW – but whom Claire Danes’ CIA agent suspects of having been turned into and al-Qaeda terrorist. There are twists galore, but the show’s real pulling power came from great characters, particularly Danes’ Carrie Mathison, whose secret battle with bi-polar disorder means the audience is never sure if she is paranoid or correct in suspecting Brody. It is a performance of compelling intensity from Danes, whose character veers from professional to frazzled to reckless. Damian Lewis also goes through the emotional gears as the hero on edge, balancing a loving all-American family with harrowing years in captivity. Mandy Patinkin adds gravitas as Division Chief Saul Berenson, and Morena Baccarin is well cast as Jessica Brody, the wife who travels from sympathetic and confused to angry and dismayed with her husband. That other post-9/11 intelligence drama 24 was more gung-ho and may have been a longer-running series, but where it was packed with plot (missing daughter, moles, passenger plane bombed, assassination conspiracy, senator with secrets – all in episode one), Homeland is a character-rich story, full of tension and questions about the nature of intelligence work.

Brody (Damian Lewis) and Carrie (Claire Danes) in Homeland

The 12-parter has its plausibility-stretching aspects (the all-seeing CIA being unaware of Carrie’s medicated lifestyle, for instance), but it works as a thriller full of engaging figures and intrigue. Series two and three stretched the premise – is-he-or-isn’t-he a traitor – too far and the spell was broken thereafter. But season one was fresh, multi-layered and gripping. Series one and two both won Golden Globes for best drama, with Claire Danes also winning twice for best actress.

Classic episode: The Weekend, episode 7 in series 1, is Brody’s showstopping moment, an instalment that is beautifully acted, elegantly structured and revelatory. Brody and Carrie sleep together at her family’s country cabin, while at the same time Jessica and Mike, whose relationship is scuppered by Brody’s return, acknowledge how difficult things are with her husband back on the scene. The mood then sours between Carrie and Brody when he realises that she’s been spying on him, and she finally accuses him of being an al-Qaeda agent. He denies it but admits to killing his co-prisoner Walker, an act of self-preservation. Following a call from Saul, Carrie thinks Brody is telling the truth and tries to repair their relationship. Brody leaves feeling betrayed, returns home, sees his wife and children asleep, and in the living room sits down and starts crying.

Watercooler facts: Homeland is based on an Israeli series called Hatufim. It is also one of President Obama’s favourite shows.

PREVIOUS: 46 Out 47 The Cops 48 Moonlighting 49 Brotherhood 50 Copper

Follow @crimetimeprev

%d bloggers like this: