Four episodes in and the secrets of The Honourable Woman are very slowly being revealed. The oblique, and occasionally self-indulgent, nature of Hugo Blick’s thriller has certainly perturbed some viewers (the swelling orchestra music and artistically angled still shots are growing a little tiresome, though are beautifully shot). However, those of us who have persevered look set to be rewarded.
A superb cast, led by the commanding Maggie Gyllenhaal, and intelligent dialogue have helped keep this viewer glued to the screen despite frustratingly slow progress on the central plot (why, oh why, does everyone seem so unconcerned about Kassim, the young boy kidnapped at the end of the first episode?). Yet, the web of seemingly disparate events and conversations is starting to come together, and the indulgently gradual progress is now only adding to the satisfaction. The large section of flashback to Nessa and Atika’s capture provided by this latest episode (‘The Ribbon Cutter’) cut through several layers of uncertainty, and raised many more questions in Blick’s carefully crafted narrative.
The showing of Nessa’s rape at the hands of her guard, Saleh al-Zahid, was difficult to watch but, perhaps, necessary in understanding the trauma experienced by the two women captured in Gaza. It certainly left no question as to the paternity of Nessa’s child who we can (probably) assume to be Kassim. The identity of the rapist’s father as the elderly leader of Fatah, Zahid al-Zahid certainly added another dimension; his expression of victory in having “infected” the bloodline of Eli Stein was truly chilling. Zahid’s “plans” for Nessa Stein also opened up a whole array of possibilities for the conclusion of The Honourable Woman.
This was all shown in contrast with a truly happy scene of the family gathered in celebration of Ephra and Rachel’s baby daughter Judith. Ephra’s fall from smug business leader to a man laid prostrate before the Israelis begging for help in rescuing Nessa from a mess at least partly of his own creation, was wonderfully acted by Andrew Buchan. Indeed, an interesting parallel was drawn between the two siblings as they both prostrated themselves before very differing figures.
With such strong female leads like Gyllenhaal and the excellent Lubna Azabal, the male characters seem weak in comparison.
A deliciously frank conversation between MI6’s Julia Walsh and Monica Chatwin (excellently played by Janet McTeer and Eve Best) told us how such a beaten-down figure as Stephen Rea’s Hugh Hayden-Hoyle was placed in charge of the Middle East desk. Yet, given the opening remarks of his wife after a disastrous dinner party, might we see a change in his lack-lustre approach in the coming weeks? Indeed, how did that FBI agent’s death figure into the overall picture, or was that merely an excuse to rack up some excitement for viewers?
The fifth episode ‘Two Hearts’ will have aired at the date of publication, so those of you already hooked by the series may well know some of the answers posed by the halfway point. But I’m sure that much will have been left just as uncertain. If you haven’t yet joined the viewership of The Honourable Woman, a few hours of iPlayer catch-up is surely warranted. Whilst I can’t predict the final course of Blick’s murky thriller, this is a bold series of considerable intelligence. The Honourable Woman airs Thursday nights at 9pm on BBC2. Get immersed.