thu 23/05/2024

The Honourable Woman, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Honourable Woman, BBC Two

The Honourable Woman, BBC Two

In which Hugo Blick tackles the personal and political complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian question

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein, with Andrew Buchan as her brother Ephra

Janet McTeer has admitted that she had to read Hugo Blick's screenplay for The Honourable Woman three times before she could understand what was going on. Therefore anybody hoping to drop into this as a casual viewer can expect to find the learning curve slippery and featuring a pronounced adverse camber.

McTeer wasn't in this first  episode, but there were still plenty of stellar names to be going on with. Stephen Rea (pictured below right) plays the world-weary Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle, the outgoing head of MI6 and a man reduced to microwaving himself solitary suppers in his apartment by the Thames. A none-too-defrosted Lindsay Duncan plays his estranged wife Anjelica, though it's odd that their relationship should trigger echoes of George Smiley and his wife Ann, since Rea played a Smiley-esque character in Blick's 2011 series The Shadow Line too. Then there was Eve Best as Monica Chatwin, back from the States to take up a new Foreign Office post in London.

But front and centre is Maggie Gyllenhaal, making her first move into TV drama as Nessa Stein, the Anglicised daughter of a wealthy Jewish arms manufacturer who used to supply weapons to Israel. Her father's traumatic murder in the show's opening moments gave us a bracing heads-up about the stakes being played for. Three decades later, Nessa runs the Stein Group of companies, but has steered the family business towards more philanthropic ends, such as her new initiative to install fibre-optic cabling throughout the Palestinian West Bank. She believes in solving problems through education and progress rather than perpetual warfare, views shared by her mild-mannered brother Ephra (Andrew Buchan).

It looks like the eight-part series is going to plot a complicated course through the bitter and intractable politics of the Middle East and how they've been entwined with Britain's history, though there's no telling how credible all this might be. Already there has been a resurgence of that Blickian tendency to set up portentous dialogues between characters representing important interests of state, all delivered with an air of immense gravity while carefully keeping the viewer starved of information. They are the insiders, he seems to be saying, and you little people will just have to wait your turn (Lindsay Duncan, below).

Blick certainly seems to like the idea of stripping away pompous, formal facades to reveal the rottenness or betrayals beneath. Nessa herself has just been made Baroness Stein of Tilbury (handy training for Gyllenhaal if she ever gets her wish to appear in Downton Abbey, where her flawless English accent could put some home-grown actors to shame), and this prompted a lot of traipsing down ancestral passageways dressed in ermine. So far it doesn't seem to be telling us anything new about the secretive workings of the Establishment, though. For that matter, how feasible is it that the head of MI6 gets his information about whether a Palestinian multi-millionaire was murdered or committed suicide by playing chess with an elderly Jewish gentleman called Judah, who somehow knows all the innermost secrets of Mossad and the Knesset? (the vaulted room in which they played their chess was undeniably impressive, however).

Blick has picked the hot-button issue of the day by focusing on the Palestinian-Israeli nexus, but it's where he takes it that matters. The iPlayer will doubtless come in handy.

Blick likes the idea of stripping away pompous, formal facades to reveal the rottenness or betrayals beneath


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Good to know I'm not the only idiot who can't understand any of the plot so far. Just how long do they want us to persevere?

I love the characters.Am I the only one that doesn't have a clue whats going on though?So frustrating and I really want to keep watching it though to prove to myself that Im not thick.But maybe at some point Ill give up trying.To me its a bit Kafka-esk.Nothing really happens.....

Your not the only one :-) I always thought I'd missed an episode. But hadn't ! It's the way the writer is taking us the viewer on a journey. I find the acting superb and the main characters nessa and ephraim enthralling to watch. Love it !

Watched it to the end, found it absorbing but still don't quite understand it. Perhaps watching it all again might help !!

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