DVD review: The Honourable Woman. BBC Worldwide.
When not laying into any of our other more successful institutions such as the National Health Service or our history of successful gun control, the dimmer elements of the British right-wing often like to attack the BBC. Why can’t be as impartial and balanced as something like The Sun or The Daily Mail they ask? Sometimes they attack it for declining standards.
And guess what? Just as they are generally wrong about everything from the brilliance of Michael Gove to their dislike of the working classes, they are wrong about this too. Just when you think they might be right (perhaps during the preamble to an episode of Strictly Come Dancing), something like The Honourable Woman comes along and reminds everyone how great TV can be on the BBC.
Make no mistake: The Honourable Woman is serious high quality stuff. A gripping eight part drama which aired in July and August on BBC Two, some of Hugo Blick’s edgy subject might in fact have made it unsuitable for normal scheduled viewing had it been aired a month later. For this is a story of the Middle East, albeit one set mostly in the UK. US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Nessa Stein, a Briton and a leading figure in the pro-Israel lobby awarded a peerage for her tireless work in the Middle East. But the Steins are a family with a dark past and plenty of secrets. As children, Nessa and her brother Ephra (Andrew Buchan) witnessed the brutal murder of their father by an assassin involved in the Palestinian cause.
But this is clearly only the beginning of the family’s problems. What exactly is the nature of the relationship between Nessa and Atika, the nanny of Ephra’s children? Indeed, what exactly us Atika’s relationship with Ephra himself? What happened to Atika and Nessa on a visit to the Middle East eight years ago? Why are the secret services (notably Sir Hugh Haden-Hoyle played by the ever-brilliant Stephen Rea) so interested? What has the death of a Palestinian man got to do with anything? Is Nessa’s sister-in-law Rachel (Katherine Parkinson) right to feel the family are in danger?
This is exemplary stuff, expertly written, frequently harrowing and well-served by a superb cast which includes The It Crowd’s Parkinson in a major straight dramatic role and sees Hollywood actress Gyllenhaal (Secretary, Donnie Darko, The Dark Knight) delivering a flawless British accent and performance. Along with Line of Duty this is one of the best British TV dramas of 2014 so far.