The Hon­ourable Woman

Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal is not to be messed with

Geelong Advertiser - TV Guide - - FRONT PAGE - writes Guy Davis

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

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