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1 of 1 Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a philanthropist  in The Honourable Woman
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a philanthropist in The Honourable Woman

John Byrne takes in a new drama on BBC Two featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal, a US sci-fi show on E4, and an RTÉ One documentary about drug mule Michaella McCollum Connolly.

Reviewed: The Honourable Woman (Thursday, BBC Two); The 100 (Monday, E4); Michaella, Peru and the Drugs Run (Monday, RTÉ One); Enlightened (On Demand, Sky); World Cup (ongoing, RTÉ Two)

Right. Hands up who saw that one coming? Not me. I know we've seen quite a few Hollywood types get their fingernails dirty on the sets of TV shows, but I was pretty stunned when I saw the name of Maggie Gyllenhaal being connected to a new BBC drama called The Honourable Woman.

I thought that would definitely be one to watch and so it proved with last Thursday’s opening episode on BBC Two. Given the fantastic cast – along with Gyllenhaal there’s Andrew Buchan (Garrow’s Law, Broadchurch), Eve Best (Nurse Jackie), Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), veterans Stephen Rea and Lindsay Duncan - it’s directed and written by Hugo Blick (The Shadow Line). My expectations were high, and were ultimately fulfilled with this first of eight parts.

See Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan and Hugo Blick talk about The Honourable Woman:

Gyllenhaal plays Nessa Stein, an Israeli-British CEO and philanthropist whose arms-trading father was murdered in a restaurant in front of her and her brother Ephra (Buchan), when they were children.

Death and deceit are the two main motifs running through the opening episode, which set the story up with a mix of Middle Eastern intrigue, spy-like riddle-making by Eve Best and Stephen Reas’s furtive spooks. A series of wonderfully-executed scenes ended with the (quite exhausting) failure of Nessa to prevent a young boy being abducted in London’s Kensington Gardens.

I haven’t a clue what’s going on, but I'm hooked. That’s usually the point of the exercise, isn't it? The Honourable Woman is already looking like yet another great BBC drama. They've been on a roll in recent years and this could match the standard set some years ago by the remarkable Parade's End.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I can recall how Broadchurch went on a slump after a stunning first couple of episodes before ending with a complete jaw-dropper. But so far, any flaws in The Honourable Woman would appear to belong to characters rather than the story-line or script.

The 100 (Monday, E4) is another new show that started in recent days and offers quite a contrast to The Honourable Woman. Coming from US channel the CW, which caters exclusively for 18-34-year-olds (Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, Arrow ), you know what to expect: it looks great but needs time to settle.

Yet another post-apocalyptic tale, The 100 is set 97 years after a nuclear war wiped out all life on Earth. The only survivors were the residents of twelve space stations in Earth's orbit, prior to the war. The space stations banded together to form a single massive station named The Ark. Population numbers are kept down by making all crimes punishable by death - unless the perpetrator is under 18.

In order to determine whether or not Earth is habitable, a ship full of (guess how many?) teen criminals is sent down from The Ark, and what follows is kind-of a shouty version of Lord of the Flies, as some teens look to enjoy their new-found freedom by acting like they've landed on a post-apocalyptic Ibiza.

The trailer wasn't bad, and there’s some interesting stuff going on back on The Ark amongst the adults (who include former Grey’s Anatomy star Isaiah Washington and Henry Ian Cusick from Lost). So I’ll give it another week or two, but it could be the next Tomorrow People, the really poor sci-fi show recently cancelled by the CW and also shown this side of the Atlantic on E4.

A completely different journey into the unknown was the subject matter of Michaella, Peru and the Drugs Run (Monday, RTÉ One), a documentary about the arrest and subsequent jailing of Irish drug mule, Michaella McCollum Connolly, who was caught at Lima airport in Peru with 11.5 kilos of cocaine in her luggage.

As well as recounting how a young and naïve woman went from being someone looking for summer work as a dancer in Ibiza to becoming an international drug-smuggler caught red-handed, it also followed Michaella’s mother Norah and sister Samantha as they travelled to South America to visit her in prison.

While offering a salutary lesson about how easy it is to end up in such a situation, Michaella, Peru and the Drugs Run thankfully avoided any finger-wagging or sensationalism. It painted a realistic picture of the situation, both Michaella’s personal fall and the insidious nature of drug-trafficking these days, with women becoming increasingly involved in this very risky pursuit.

As it was put at the end of the documentary, so long as there is money and drugs , ‘there will be business’. Depressing.

Michaella, Peru and the Drugs Run is available to view on the RTÉ Player here: http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10301168/

On a lighter note, at long last Sky Atlantic are finally going to show the second season of Enlightened, the HBO comedy-drama starring Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe, a self-destructive executive who suffers a complete personal meltdown and tries to rebuild her life.

The first season was shown back in 2011 and, as fantastic as it was, I jumped at the chance to see it again through Sky On Demand, ahead of season two’s better-late-than-never arrival next week. The opener deals with the immediate repercussions as Amy tries to ‘find herself’ at a hippie rehab facility in Hawaii.

When she returns to her previous employment, everything has changed and she finds herself cut off by former friends and colleagues, who are more concerned with climbing over her for self-advancement than in helping her.

For her part, Amy’s Hawaiian-induced serenity is tested to the max when she’s moved to the basement of the building, and given a clearly pointless and menial task to fill her day.

If you haven’t seen Enlightened yet, do yourself a favour, especially as all ten episodes of the first season’s there on demand for Sky subscribers. It says more about the human condition than any other show I've seen since Seinfeld.

Finally, as the World Cup begins to fade from our lives once again, a big thank you to Costa Rica. Their bravery and sheer determination almost landed them in the last four, but thanks to some astute Dutch planning, they bowed out at the quarter-final stage (Saturday, RTÉ  Two), leaving the tournament to the big boys.

Whoever wins next Sunday’s decider, it’s been a great tournament and a fitting swansong for Bill O'Herlihy, but I will be delighted to see my wife again from next Monday, when there’s a double-bill of the hugely enjoyable Persons of Interest we can watch together.


John Byrne

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