If SundanceTV's The Honorable Woman were any timelier in its geopolitical drama, most specifically of the Israeli-Palestinian variety, it would bleed newsprint. But it's the emotional intricacies of this rewardingly complex and brilliantly acted eight-part miniseries (Thursdays, 10/9c) that resonate timelessly, grounded by Maggie Gyllenhaal's impassioned, extraordinary performance as the title character, idealistic Anglo-Israeli philanthropist and newly appointed Baroness Nessa Stein.
Gyllenhaal brings layers upon layers of crisp elegance, prideful steel, profound sorrow and ultimately an aching vulnerability to Nessa. We share her angry despair as her lofty goals — most notably, wiring the West Bank in a lucrative but controversial contract for high-speed Internet as part of her family foundation's crusade for reconciliation — are steadily shattered by shady compromises and sinister secrets stemming from her mysterious abduction in Gaza eight years earlier.
In a summer of TV abundance, this demanding and deliberately paced thriller (written and directed with ruthless intelligence by Hugo Blick) stands apart and above the glut of original programming. With its urgently compelling mysteries and shocking reveals, it's the equal of last summer's brilliant Broadchurch. And as it evokes the best of John le Carré in its labyrinthine intrigues, populated by world-weary and cynical spy masters on multiple continents playing rough and for keeps, Woman may also remind Homeland fans of what they first loved about that series.
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Even when the occasional twist is telegraphed as the body count escalates, the impact is considerable, thanks in large part to a top-tier cast of international actors who each could very easily carry their own story. Among the fascinating characters in Nessa's perilous orbit: the marvelous Stephen Rae as a hangdog MI-5 Middle East specialist nearing the end of his career; the formidable Janet McTeer as his waspish boss; a wily Eve Best as an ambitious operative who may be after both of their jobs; Andrew Buchan (the grieving dad on Broadchurch) as Nessa's conflicted brother; and two terrific actors new to me: the robust Yigal Naor as a family confidante who helped raise the orphaned-by-assassination Stein siblings and is bidding for the latest phase in the fiber-optic contract, and Lubna Azabal as a former Palestinian interpreter-turned-housekeeper/nanny whose shared history with Nessa bonds them through a series of bloody betrayals.
Suspenseful and cerebral, poignant and provocative, Woman is more than honorable, it's unforgettable.
MORE QUALITY TV: And let's not forget Sundance's other Thursday gem: Rectify (9/8c), which continues its hypnotic, brooding and almost perversely languorous second season, following the eerily inscrutable man-of-few-words Daniel Holden (Aden Young) on a road trip with sinister undertones as he pursues more clues about the murder that landed him on Death Row. While outside forces conspire to put him back in prison, at the risk of ripping the Holden family apart, Daniel's own inner rage and confusion could be his greatest obstacle to the redemption he appears to seek.
While still a very affecting drama, never condescending in its depiction of the rural south (though rather daringly acknowledging an oft-numbing monotony), Rectify lacks some of the quiet urgency and emotional intensity of its first season. I don't mind its slow pace, but trust it's building to something in the next few weeks before the Aug. 21 season (hopefully not series) finale.
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