Jim Carroll

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The slow screen approach

Like Boyhood, The Honourable Woman shows it’s not all about instant gratification

Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 14:47

   

Summer is traditionally the time when TV programmers and schedulers reach for the repeats, the beauty pageants and the sports to fill the airwaves. August have become the month when everyone is supposed to have fecked off to the seaside (that is “everyone” bar us schmucks who stay behind to work and, wouldn’t you know, there are a lot of us around) so the idea of putting on a TV series which requires time and patience is not usually a runner.

That carry-on is for September or October, when normal life allegedly returns, the nights grow longer and we’re all supposed to huddle by an open fire. It’s why RTE are currently plugging the bejaysus out of upcoming shows like The Fall, Love/Hate and Charlie everytime there’s an ad break. They know that viewers are not prepared to pay attention to anything new or challenging this weather, but they’re keen all the same to tell us what’s ahead.

But The Honourable Woman, which concludes on BBC2 tomorrow night, bucks all those trends. Over the last couple of weeks, Hugo Blick’s compelling and enthralling conspiracy thriller has slowly pulled in the viewer and made you think. Between the machinations of the Stein family over their involvement in the shadowy world of Middle Eastern politics and some stunning performances at every turn from Maggie Gyllenhaal (who has had a champion year on screen what with Frank as well), The Honourable Woman is a TV series which you know you’ll be going back to again – and not just to work out what the hell was going on a la Blick’s excellent previous series The Shadow Line.

It’s also a bit of an anomaly in this age of box sets and binge viewing to have to wait a week for the next episode to appear. I’m sure watching The Honourable Woman in one go would be equally fine, but there’s something about having to wait for the next installment which rewards patience and your investment in the whole series. It could be how you get to think out the plotlines and twists or it could be the eerie fact about how a TV series based around Israel, Gaza and the West Bank so eeriely reflects real life at the moment.

In an era when time and attention are the most valuable currencies we have, it’s a real luxury in some ways to give so much time to a TV series or film. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood may take up over two and a half hours of your life but it’s a film which really rewards that time in the cinema. A film slowly capturing a person growing from boy to man with all the kinks and imperfections of that process and the other people who’re part of the hinterland, Boyhood is a real tour-de-force, a film which is still playing in your mind days later. As with The Honourable Woman, it shows that sometimes the slow screen approach is best.