Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in Hugo Blick's complex, occasionally ponderous, miniseries
Mike Leigh's 1996 drama "Secrets & Lies" is a very good movie, at times even a great movie. It's full of great performances, rich thematic underpinnings and, like so many Mike Leigh films, fine naturalistic dialogue.
But then it also has that scene where Timothy Spall's Maurice wails, "Secrets and lies! We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain? I've spent my entire life trying to make people happy, and the three people I love the most in the world hate each other's guts, and I'm in the middle! I can't take it anymore!"
I've never quite been sure what Mike Leigh wanted that speech to accomplish.
Did he really think, "Without this, nobody will know why we called this movie 'Secrets & Lies' and audiences will leave disgruntled"?
Did he think, "Yes, viewers will probably get what the movie is about, but there's no harm in underlining it just a little"?
Or did he just figure that speech was the key to Spall getting an Oscar nomination and he left it in because we all know Mike Leigh is deeply invested in award recognition for his movies?
I tend to suspect option "B," because nobody ever placed the requirement of "subtlety" on great art. Sometimes artists like to make sure they're understood, even if a largely inert sponge probably would have gotten the point anyway.
Hugo Blick's eight-part miniseries "The Honorable Woman" -- I really, really want to call it "The Honourable Woman," but once you open the door to British spelling, that door can never be closed -- is a nuanced and occasionally gripping political thriller bursting with strong performances, anchored by the clearly Emmy-worthy Maggie Gyllenhaal. It's also really, really worried that you won't understand what's happening beneath-the-surface and I'm not sure that I've ever seen a movie or TV program spend so much time directly articulating and then repeating its underlying themes.
It's an odd combination, because while writer-director-producer Blick has almost no faith in the audience's ability to parse this text for its message on truth, lies, secrets and the Middle East, he's reasonably confident that viewers will be able to follow a fragmented narrative that withholds key pieces of information for long stretches. So "The Honorable Woman" is probably the most subtle and least subtle thing you're likely to watch on TV this month, which actually makes it of a piece with a lot of SundanceTV's original programming, which could practically have the tagline, "Pay Close Attention: We're Only Going To Tell You This 50 Times." [SundanceTV placed two shows in my Top 10 for 2013, so don't take this necessarily as a damning criticism. I like things that are both obtuse and willing to beat you over the head with a mallet.]
More on "The Honorable Woman" after the break...