wed 21/08/2019

Boardwalk Empire, Series 3, Sky Atlantic | reviews, news & interviews

Boardwalk Empire, Series 3, Sky Atlantic

Boardwalk Empire, Series 3, Sky Atlantic

It's 1923, and Nucky Thompson's world has turned darker and more cruel

Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) and Nucky (Steve Buscemi) host an Egyptian-themed New Year's Eve party

And so to the third series of HBO's panorama of the Prohibition era, where we joined the denizens of Atlantic City as they prepared to celebrate New Year's Day, 1923. In the finale of series two, we'd seen our chief protagonist, Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), tying off some loose ends as he prepared to take the plunge into full-scale gangsterhood. These included persuading Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) to marry him so she couldn't testify against him in court, and despatching his weak and treacherous brother Eli (Shea Whigham) to jail.

Both of these are back on board for series three (Eli returns in episode two), as Nucky continues to implement his plans to leverage his underworld influence into political power, but Boardwalk fans will have been wondering how the vacuum left by Nucky's killing of Jimmy Darmody might be filled. Michael Pitt's performance as the damaged, haunted Darmody had been a continuing highlight of the earlier shows, skilfully evoking the inner torments of a gifted Princeton scholar driven to the dark side by his World War One experiences and a damningly incestuous relationship with his showgirl mother, Gillian (Gretchen Mol).

Happily, Jimmy's loss was subsumed within the teeming sweep of the ongoing story and its tightly-meshed cast, as we caught glimpses of the machinery underpinning the remorseless march of American capitalism. If Empire has a downside, it's the way it shares with the likes of The Wire or The Sopranos a reluctance to make concessions by way of signposting characters or explaining obscurities of the plot, but on the other hand that's a way of commanding close attention and turning viewers into co-conspirators. No doubt it drives sales of DVD box sets too, since a second or third viewing of any episode always turns up stuff you missed the time before.

Not hard to spot, though, were the telltale markers of the show's darker, heavier tone. In the opening sequence we met Boardwalk's new bad guy, Sicilian mobster Gyp Rosetti, played with snarling, lumbering malevolence by Bobby Canavale (pictured above). He's so desperate to be badder than the rest that he beat an innocent civilian to death with a tyre-iron, mistaking his desire to be helpful for disrespectful cleverness. Before the end of the episode, the cack-handed Rosetti had made a point of insulting just about every crime boss who matters in the cast (addressing the sleek Arnold Rothstein as "you smug kike midget," for instance). Since he surprisingly didn't end up shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death, the writers must have some grand narrative arc up their sleeves for Rosetti (Michael Stuhlbarg as Rothstein, pictured below).

Nucky, too, is several notches harder and crueller than his earlier self, who was occasionally given to outbreaks of genuine warmth and charm. But Nasty Nucky sneers vindictively at his wife, callously toys with petty criminals before having them murdered, and plays hardball with corrupt fat-cats from Capitol Hill. As the sleazy Attorney-General tells him, "you're a gangster, plain and simple."

With a cast as rich as this, and with so many plot strands in perpetual motion, you need to lay in supplies and settle down for the long haul. This time we only had a brief reminder of Stephen Graham's deliciously pugnacious Al Capone (pictured below), a suspect device always on the brink of detonation, while we can expect to see a lot more of Richard Harrow (Jack Huston), the assassin with the metal face-mask, now operating under the conniving auspices of Jimmy's mom.

It looks like there's a distinct feminist strand developing too, spearheaded by Nucky's wife Margaret, who's determined to use his money to promote better maternity care and women's health. It's the devoutly Catholic Margaret's penance for making her satanic bargain with Nucky, and a fly-over by pioneering aviatrix Carrie Duncan echoed her burgeoning mood of independence. Like it said in the lyrics of the period song on the soundtrack, "there's nothing 'bout me gonna be the same."

Sicilian mobster Gyp Rosetti beat an innocent civilian to death with a tyre-iron, mistaking his desire to be helpful for disrespectful cleverness

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