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Good, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal, sometimes moving, if complicated and not always 100% believable British series
on 17 December 2015
Good, especially Maggie Gyllenhaal as the central character, sometimes moving, if complicated and not always 100% believable British made drama.
This series certainly has mysteries and surprising plot turns, but is too serious and character-focused to be just a thriller or spy story.
There are only 8 episodes, but they are quite long so there is quite a lot of viewing time.
‘The Honourable Woman’ of the title is Nessa Stein, a would-be philanthropist from a family of wealthy British Jews, who is caught up in intersecting plots by Palestinian Arabs, Israelis and British and American intelligence.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, playing Nessa Stein, is obviously a very talented actress. Although American (compare how she speaks in the short interview included in the one ‘Special Feature' on the disc), in the role she faultlessly imitates an English accent of a certain social class (as, incidentally her husband, the American actor Peter Sarsgaard, also did a few years back in the film ‘An Education’).
Ms Gyllenhaal (who I remember from the odd but surprisingly good film ‘Secretary’ some years ago) is no Hollywood Love Goddess beauty, but quite attractive in a ‘woman in her mid to late 30s’ kind of way. She has some semi-nude scenes here, although some are too sad in context to count as ‘soft porn’.
The rest of the cast are also mostly good, perhaps especially Lubna Azabal as the Arabic translator Atika. I hope she appears in more English language productions. You may also like: Janet McTeer as 'Dame Julia Walsh', the new Head of MI6; her rival subordinates Stephen Rea (also successfully using an accent not his real one) and Eve Best; Yigal Nayor as the Israeli businessman 'Schlomo', Genevieve O'Reilly as Nessa's assistant Frances and the 'expert' character with a foreign accent whose name I did not catch, who looks like Trotsky.
I lack first-hand knowledge to say how close to life the Palestinian and Israeli scenes and plot elements are. Those about people plotting against each other within British and American intelligence I cannot know but suspect owe more to other dramas the writer/ director has seen than reality.
The Israel - Palestine conflict, central to the plot, is a very emotive subject. As other reviewers have said, this series does an unusually good job of seeing both sides. I do, though, sense one prejudice in the script, especially in who is behind the ultimate plot, but can say no more about that without giving away the ending.
Lastly, only for those who are interested, a minor point about accuracy, speaking as a lawyer and ex-Whitehall Civil Servant:
In Episode 4 Janet McTeer’s character ‘Dame Julia Walsh’ talks of having someone “sign the Official Secrets Act” so they are “contractually bound” to keep government secrets. This combines 4 kinds of nonsense in a few words, as a real life senior member of British Intelligence would probably know.
-Despite what people say, public servants in Britain do not “sign the Official Secrets Act” . No one 'signs Acts of Parliament', except possibly the Queen, who writes her assent on new Acts of Parliament (in Medieval Norman French!), although that is not strictly her signature.
-There is not an “Official Secrets Act”, but currently four Official Secrets Acts in force.
-They are not "contractual". They are part of the law of the land. Everyone in Britain is automatically subject to them. Public servants may be asked, on joining and on leaving a department, to sign a Declaration that they will obey the confidentiality provisions in one of the Official Secrets Acts. Signing this has no legal effect but simply makes people aware of what their legal duties already are.
-(And to be legally technical, such a declaration is not 'contractually' binding in English law as there is no 'consideration' for the promise.)