26 Sep - 2 Oct 2014 #726

The Honourable Woman

This well written, well researched saga will move you but also leave you disturbed.
Sophia Pande

Recent complex and tragic events that have occurred in Israel and Palestine has generated dissent and concern all over the world. In opinion pieces, in newspapers, and at dinner tables, conversations can often turn into shouting matches because of strong opinions on either side. The issues involving the creation of Israel, the horrific events that led to it, its continuing struggle to exist, and the plight of the Palestinian people is a subject most fiction writers choose to stay away from due to fear of backlash from various parties.

Which is why, this week I have chosen to write about The Honourable Woman, a BBC commissioned 8-part miniseries that dives straight into these issues unafraid, bringing up very real controversies. While I strongly believe that the best way to understand complex issues is by reading widely, and wisely, on the matter, I also feel that sometimes the best way to bring difficult subjects to a wider viewership is through popular methods – television in this case.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the titular honourable woman, Baroness Nessa Stein, an enormously wealthy, sensitive, but steely business woman who is determined to not let her violent past history (her father was garroted before her eyes) mar her philanthropic efforts on the West Bank.

Here is some crucial context: Nessa and her brother Ephra (Andrew Buchan) are Jewish, their father was killed by a Palestinian terrorist, and Nessa was once kidnapped while visiting the West Bank with her then translator and now faithful but enigmatic Palestinian friend Atika (Lubna Azabal).

Why then are the Steins so intent on continuing efforts towards improving life on the West Bank? Are their motives largely financial, or perhaps even more nefarious, cleverly masked by their humanitarian façade? What happened to Nessa when she and Atika were imprisoned for months on end? Why did Ephra, the older brother, step down as head of the Stein Group right after Nessa was liberated by the Mossad?

These are just a few of the questions that you will find yourself asking over the course of this tightly wrought series that involves a number of byzantine games played by every single character, and is further convoluted by the meddling of the American, British, Palestinian and Israeli intelligence services.

Why then should you watch this sometimes histrionic but compelling spy thriller? Because the series is about an extraordinary woman who manages to hold on to her humanity despite being buffeted by the stormiest weather, personally and politically. This well written, well researched saga will move you but also leave you disturbed.

Watch trailer:

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