It's hard to say whether the timing of The Honorable Woman is horribly unfortunate or conveniently on-point. Sundance's new mystery thriller miniseries, which premiered in the UK at the beginning of the month, is set amidst the tangled web of geopolitics that is the Israel/Palestine conflict. It's a taut and compelling drama that manages to confront its tricky subject matter by focusing on its expertly portrayed cast of characters.
Businesswoman Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is well known in England for her philanthropic work in the Middle East, such that she's just been named a Baroness. She's known for converting her father's company, The Stein Group, from a business that distributed weapons to Israel to an organization dedicated to rolling out a fiber optic communications network in the West Bank. Eight years prior, Nessa took control of the institution from elder brother Ephra (Andrew Buchan), the only family she has since the two witnessed the assassination of their father as children. But it turns out that the transfer of control between the siblings may have been a lot more complicated than it appeared. The apparent suicide of one of The Stein Group's business partners and the kidnapping a young boy threaten to uncover some long-held secrets that could impact the good works they've spent years trying to accomplish.
The greatest strength of The Honorable Woman is its stellar, lead by the radiant and perfect Gyllenhaal, whose English accent is so spot-on, you'll never want her to play an American again. Nessa is a brilliantly drawn and complex character, whose moments of vulnerability never undercut how unbelievably strong she is and Gyllenhaal is up to the task at every turn. She's surrounded by a collection of fascinating female characters including Lubna Azabal as Ephra's housekeeper, the mother of the kidnapped child and old friend of the Stein siblings, The IT Crowd's Katherine Parkinson as Ephra's wife Rachel, and Janet McTeer and Eve Best as a pair of intelligence agents. The fabulous Lindsay Duncan also plays a recurring role. Buchan, Tobias Menzies and Stephen Rea are also great, though, as the title might suggest, this is very much the ladies' show.
The early episodes of the series can drag a bit as creator Hugo Blick gets a bit too invested in one of Nessa's more transparent secrets. Once the truth is finally let loose, the drama picks up more steam and the far more riveting character conflicts are allowed to take center stage. The Honorable Woman is a sophisticated and intelligent thriller that has as much respect for its audience as it does its rich cast of characters.
The Honorable Woman premieres at 9pm CST on the Sundance channel.