Fancy getting into a thriller that had critics drooling and viewers around the world mesmerised? Then you'll want to make time for The Honourable Woman. Here's why...
1. Maggie Gyllenhaal is awesome
When you get a movie star like Maggie Gyllenhaal taking the lead in a BBC production, you sit up and take notice. And she completely exceeds our expectations in the role of Nessa Stein - a British businesswoman who seems to lead a charmed life (wealth, status, international influence) but is still inwardly traumatised by her past. As a child, she saw her own father - an Israeli arms dealer - murdered in front of her. Now she heads up the company he created, but is determined to make it a force for good, ploughing money into making life better for Palestinians and Israel a safer place. Steely, poised, elegant, her eyes speaking of an inner angst which the rest of her tries to conceal, Maggie Gyllenhaal utterly owns the role, masterfully portraying one of the most memorable women we can remember seeing on the small screen in recent years. Speaking of which...
2. It's female-led without the clichés
How refreshing is it to get a big bold drama with a female lead, and other important women characters like Palestinian housekeeper Atika, and the head of MI6, where the actual meat of the drama isn't about marital troubles, work/life balance, and issues directly related to "being a woman". Instead, Nessa has her mind on things like international espionage, the Middle East conflict, political corruption, and murder. This a show which skirts past the TV clichés, giving us a lot more to think about than how glamorous Maggie looks in her chic outfits. A bit like thrillers with male leads, then.
3. It's got so much going on
It's always nice when a thriller actually treats us like grown-ups who can handle complex storylines, rather than having to give us a car chase or fist fight every few minutes to keep us interested. The Honourable Woman is dense with intrigue and enigmas - from questions about Nessa's murky family, to the kidnapping of a child, to the behind-the-scenes dealings in Israel, it's a complete portrait of a person and her world, and it expects us to keep up. Yes, you'll have to keep your mind alert while watching it. And yes, it's completely worth it. This is one TV pleasure that isn't a guilty one.
4. It's a whole new kind of spy thriller
The Middle East conflict is such a permanent fixture on the news that you'd be forgiven for being a bit exhausted by the whole issue. Yet, The Honourable Woman wrenches away the usual headlines and talking points, and throws us into the reality of it, through characters that we care about and situations that are unlike any we've seen in thrillers before. Let's face it - when was the last time you saw a drama that told the story of a major conflict through the eyes of a businesswoman in Britain who also happens to be a life peer in the House of Lords? The very sight of Maggie Gyllenhaal in her baroness robes is unusual enough to get us hooked.
5. It's beautifully directed
The Honourable Woman isn't just brilliantly written - it's beautifully directed too. We have the same man to thank for both things: the acclaimed Hugo Blick both came up with the screenplay AND filmed the whole thing, so it's very much his vision. What we get is a TV drama that looks ravishingly cinematic, full of instantly iconic shots (one that springs to mind is the sight of wealthy going to sleep in her sparse panic room). It also dares to take things slowly. Where most shows just throw quick-cutting scenes at us, and can almost feel like extended trailers for themselves, The Honourable Woman actually trusts that we still have long attention spans, with the story unfolding in a sometimes dream-like way. Just watch it, already!
The Honourable Woman continues on Wednesdays at 9pm.