TV review: Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in timely miniseries 'The Honorable Woman'


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It's hard to get more terrifyingly timely than Sundance TV's "The Honorable Woman" (10 tonight), a geo-political thriller starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as a British-born Israeli who may be trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- if she's not trying to thwart it.

A smart, deliberately paced, closed-ended miniseries, "The Honorable Woman" focuses on Nessa Stein (Ms. Gyllenhaal), who as a child witnessed the assassination of her Zionist arms procurer father. As an adult she's changed the focus of his company to supply high-speed data lines between Israel and the West Bank with the hope of encouraging reconciliation.

'The Honorable Woman'

When: 10 tonight, Sundance TV.


"Terror lives in poverty. It dies in wealth" she says during one of many speeches she gives upon her appointment to the British House of Lords.

Publicly, Nessa presents herself with poise and dignity, but, boy, does she harbor secrets. She sleeps in an all-white panic room inside her London home and has some sort of connection with Atika (Lubna Azabal), the nanny employed by her brother, Ephra (Andrew Buchan).

Atika has a son, Kasim, who lives with Ephra and his family, although early on viewers may wonder if Nessa is Kasim's biological mother given her expressions of concern for his safety.

In addition to Nessa's family, "The Honorable Woman" also tracks intelligence agents from myriad countries, including former "Nurse Jackie" star Eve Best (aka Dr. O'Hara) as an operative.

It's the women -- plural -- who are running the show, including Janet McTeer ("The White Queen") as a high-ranking MI-6 official. Their terrific performances, including Ms. Gyllenhaal and her impeccable British accent, contribute mightily to making "The Honorable Woman" rave-worthy.

Written and directed by Hugo Blick ("Sensitive Skin"), "The Honorable Woman" introduces its investigative characters after Nessa gives a data link contract to a Palestinian businessman who turns up dead of an apparent -- but probably not really -- suicide. Was Nessa involved in his demise? Is her reconciliation talk just a facade, a front for a long game strategy?

Episode two is more about the spy types than it is about Nessa, although the episode does come back to her in time for her to make a realization:

"They know, they know," she tells Atika.

But what do they know?

This miniseries doesn't show its cards up front, slowly building to a boil. This gives the miniseries a tension-filled, engrossing, slow crescendo effect that mirrors the clandestine events depicted in "The Honorable Woman."

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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