The Honourable Woman (they spelled it that, so I’ll follow suit) is a BBC/Sundance co-production starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a philanthropist dedicated to developing better communications between Israelis and Palestinians by laying cables in the West Bank. It’s the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines thriller that usually confuses me … I’m pretty bad about keeping track of the zillion plot shenanigans, especially when the episodes are a week apart. Midway through the seventh of the eight episodes, I hit pause and asked my wife if she understood what was going on, she being better than I at such things. She wasn’t quite sure, although she had a better handle on it than I did, and she assumed it would all make sense by the end of the series. Before I hit play, I let her know that I didn’t think I’d understand, even after the series ran its course.
And that’s pretty much the case. I got the basics, but the plot is full of unpredictable twists. Every character has a secret or six, and no one can be trusted … even the trustworthy people can’t be trusted because when you can’t trust anyone, you don’t know that one person is actually OK. I’m not convinced every plot thread was completed … in fact, I can think of at least one that seemed important for about two minutes and was never spoken of again.
So you don’t go into something like this expecting a by-the-numbers, coherent narrative, and perhaps that’s why people like these things. Sometimes it’s fun to break free of the NCIS school of storytelling, and to just bounce all over the place hoping something works.
It’s important with a project like The Honourable Woman to get top actors, because good acting can carry the audience a long way. I may not have always known what was going on, but I liked watching what I didn’t know. Gyllenhaal carries the show, and if her English accent was shaky, I didn’t know … I’m just a dumb American. It was nice that despite her many travails, her character usually managed to hold it together … I like Carrie from Homeland as much as the next person, but it gets tiring when every female lead has emotional problems (see Kruger, Diane on The Bridge). Also worth mentioning: Lubna Azabal (so good in Incendies), Janet McTeer, Eve Best. Yigal Naor was as comforting a figure as anyone could be in a story like this. I’d give special mention to Stephen Rea, as a retiring British spy. Usually when a character is described as “rumpled”, you picture a shabby overcoat like the one Columbo used to wear, and Rea does indeed dress like that. But the hangdog expressions on his face, and even the tired efforts when he speaks, could also be described as “rumpled”. He seems like the one person who actually wants to know the truth.
The Honourable Woman is a candidate for binge-watching … I suspect it would be easier to follow seen in that fashion. I liked it well enough, but if there’s a sequel, I don’t know if I’d jump to watch it. Grade for series: B.