The Honourable Woman
Maggie Gyllenhaal is not to be messed with
T he Honourable Woman is demanding, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
This eight- part miniseries, now airing on pay- TV station BBC First, works on multiple levels – it’s a tense and timely political thriller, an emotionally rich character study, an intricate puzzle that brings together the complexities of both human behaviour and global politics.
This isn’t the kind of program you have on in the background. It requires commitment and concentration. But the rewards are plentiful.
The title character is Nessa Stein, brought to life in what may well be a career- best performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
As a child, she witnessed the murder of her father, a powerful Israeli arms dealer. Nearly three decades later, she is striving to change the direction of the family business, the Stein Group, by shifting its focus from weaponry to communications.
Announcing the development of a broadband network across the West Bank seems like the appropriate move.
But the conflict between Israel and Palestine isn’t one that is likely to be calmed by such a development, despite the best intentions of the people involved.
And here’s the thing: not everyone has the best intentions. Whether it’s shadowy operatives from UK intelligence agency MI5 or even members of Nessa’s own family, everyone has their own agenda.
“It’s a wonder we trust anyone at all,” Nessa states in the voiceover that opens each episode of The Honourable Woman.
And indeed it’s a theme that runs throughout the miniseries – whether the events of the past and the actions of the present can ever result in a better future, not only for the characters in question but the world at large.
As spy games, kidnappings and assassinations ensue, the miniseries occasionally takes on a tone not unlike Homeland or 24 but with greater depth and impact.
Written, directed and produced by Hugo Blick ( whose credits include the thrilling police drama The Shadow Line), The Honourable Woman is an ambitious piece of work that occasionally lays on the whole secrets- and- lies melodrama a bit thick but more than compensates for that with its sure- handed depiction of international intrigue and its thoughtful creation of its characters.
Old pros Stephen Rea and Janet McTeer bring their A- game to their portrayals of espionage veterans negotiating the murkiness of the Stein situation, while Igal Naor is extremely compelling as an Israeli businessman with personal and professional connections to Nessa and her initiatives.
Central to the story, however, and key to its success is Gyllenhaal, an actor with a marvellous sense of intelligence, integrity and emotional access.
In Nessa Stein, she has found a character who is captivating and complex, and she brings her formidable strengths to bear in making her the heart of a gripping, intriguing story.
The Honourable Woman, Monday, BBC First (Foxtel) at 8.30pm