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'The Honorable Woman' debuts amid new conflict in Israel

POSTED: August 22, 2014 8:00 a.m.
Sundance Channel/

Eve Best and Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman (2014)

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In entertainment, they say timing is everything. So for British screenwriter Hugo Blick, it's either extremely convenient or very unfortunate that the thriller he penned 18 months ago for TV, "The Honorable Woman," is set in Israel.

The series debuted Aug. 7, just after fighting began anew between Israel and Hamas terrorists in Palestinian Gaza. Blick hopes the show will help viewers understand the complexity of the situation.

"When I was writing it, (Israel) was quiet. So much so I think the Western world outside of the region almost felt like it no longer mattered given Libya and Egypt with such huge noise coming from those regions," Blick said. "Even when it’s quiet, it’s just on a cycle. I knew it would return, but that’s what promoted need within the piece."

The series focuses on Nessa Stein (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), the British daughter of a Jewish businessman who dealt weapons to Israel and was subsequently murdered before her eyes as a child. When Nessa inherits the company, she decides to take it in another direction, and eventually contracts with a Palestinian to lay cable that would provide high-speed Internet and television services to Gaza. When the contractor turns up dead, Nessa is catapulted into a conflict with spies and terrorists that leaves her struggling to juggle the secrets of her family's past and her hopes for the future.

The show has received high praise from outlets like The Hollywood ReporterSlate magazineGrantland and Time.
In a Q-and-A with The Hollywood Reporter, Gyllenhaal said she hoped the show would spark fresh conversation about Israel, Gaza and the history of the region for a new generation.

"It can be so difficult to have a conversation about what is happening in Israel and Palestine right now. [The show] very consciously does not take a side; it doesn't say, 'We believe this, and we don't believe that,’ ” Gyllenhaal said, alluding to how Nessa's warm and fuzzy intentions are sucked up into the nature of the region's conflict: a history of violence, distrust and uncertainty. "We lay out aspects of the conflict, and we ask the audience to think and feel for themselves. I'm really hungry for that, and I bet a lot of other people are too."

A Pew Research Center poll found that Americans ages 18-29 are heavily divided in who's to blame for the latest flare-up: 29 percent blame Israel, while 21 percent blame Hamas, as the Washington Post reported.

"I wanted to not just give the yin and yang," Blick said. "One idea is presented as being true and then further down the series line, another truth will be presented from the other side. That’s how the argument works. Keep that idea, but take another idea."
The show, Gyllenhaal told The Hollywood Reporter, may ask a younger audience to do something it hasn't before: Look closely to something that's difficult to watch.

"I completely relate to and understand people who just can't look at it," Gyllenhaal said. "I think maybe this piece of fiction can begin a kind of opening for thinking and feeling about something I think we really need to be thinking about."
The eight-part miniseries airs Thursday nights at 10/9 central on the Sundance Channel.

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com
Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

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