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Series / The Honourable Woman

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A 2014 TV Mini Series by the BBC and Sundance TV, The Honourable Woman is a cross between a British Conspiracy Thriller and a Spy Fiction, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein, an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman whose company, the Stein Group, has spent the last several years building a network of optical cables between Israel and the Palestinian Territory, in an effort to sponsor peace in the area. On the day that Nessa announces that their business partner for the final phase of the network is to be a Palestinian company and not the Israeli company that built the first two phases, the head of said Palestinian company is found hanging by his neck from a flagpole outside his London hotel room.

Then it starts to get complicated. In a flashback, we learn that Nessa and her brother Ephra are the children of Eli Stein, an arms manufacturer who sold weapons to Israel in large amounts, and that Eli was assassinated in a London hotel dining room in front of Nessa and Ephra when they were both children. When they both grew up, Ephra took over the family business but by then the Stein Group was making IT technology, not weapons, in an attempt to atone for their father's behaviour. However, seven years previous to the present action, Nessa took over control of the business and Ephra took control of the less-significant Stein Foundation, which sponsors academies in Israel and the West Bank which are open to both Israeli and Palestinian students. Ephra lives with his wife Rachel, who's expecting their third child; with Ephra and Rachel also lives their housekeeper Atika, a Palestinian woman who is a close friend of Nessa, and her son Kasim. Then, one night at a classical concert in the middle of London, Kasim is kidnapped.

And with that, the whole thing starts to unravel. MI6 gets involved, Nessa's past turns out to be a great deal more complicated than everyone thought, characters start getting unexpectedly shot in the head and it all turns into a gripping drama about the terrible moral compromises involved in the Arab–Israeli Conflict.

Written, produced and directed by Hugo Blick, The Honourable Woman got rave reviews from more or less everyone, Maggie Gyllenhaal got a Golden Globe for her performance as Nessa, and Stephen Rea was nominated for a BAFTA award for his performance as Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle, head of MI6's Middle East desk. Word of God says that there will be no series 2, and that the story has been told.

Because this show is a thriller in which much depends on the timely revelation of information that was not previously known, much of its tropiness has had to be concealed for spoiler-related reasons.

This Miniseries contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Atika, who strangles a guy with chain and sets him on fire; stabs a man in the throat after having been stabbed herself in the abdomen; stitches herself up immediately afterwards with nappy pins and field dressing, proceeding to drive several miles cross-country and then take down an armed man from several dozen yards away with a single shot from a handgun.
  • The Atoner: Nessa, who wants her life's work to atone for her father's career selling weapons to Israel.
  • Badass Israeli: Shlomo is set up to be one of these.
  • Big Bad: Discussed in the case of Zahid Al-Zahid, in his conversation with Nessa. He freely admits that he ordered her father's assassination, that he ordered his own son to rape her, and that he ordered the assassination of her and her brother, but he did it because he feels that his cause is just, and while he understands that she must hate him and wouldn't be surprised if, knowing what she now knows, she wants to kill him, he's hated her people all his life for what they've done to his people.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Rather than solid walls and minimal windows of real world intelligence agencies, the MI6 offices in the show have glass walls and floor to ceiling windows throughout the building.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Nessa has this.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Bloom gets one of these, as does Rebecca Lantham and a couple of minutes later, her 'taxi driver'.
  • Child by Rape: It turns out Nessa's secret was she became pregnant by one of her kidnappers raping her. Kasim is her son, though Atika agrees to raise him as her own.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The honors go to head of MI6 Dame Julia Walsh, and her immediate subordinate Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle. One reviewer commented that she'd pay good money for a spin-off show that consisted of just Julia and Hugh sniping at each other across a desk.
    Julia: Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that in a room full of pussies, I'm the only one with a vagina.
  • Determinator: Nessa, who before the story begins has been kidnapped by the Palestinians and raped by one of her kidnappers, but who will stop at nothing to try to make her plans for peace in the region work out. Also Atika, who pretended to be kidnapped along with Nessa even though she was in on the whole plan; who had no idea that Nessa's rape was done by order, and who tried to stop it by interposing herself; who persuaded Nessa to let her claim the baby as her own; who went back to England with Nessa and lived there for eight years, even forming a relationship with Nessa's brother, so that he and Nessa could be lured into a position where they could both be assassinated; who, when it turned out that Nessa wasn't dead, went back to the territories to get her out, and who, when she realized that her own superior in the operation planned to kill Nessa anyway, killed him instead, delivered Nessa's son back to her, and gave her a chance to get away before being killed herself. Everything Atika does is in the service of her cause; it's she, and not Nessa, who is the titular 'honourable woman'.
  • Eagleland: Of the four nations involved in this story — the UK, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and the USA — none of them come out of this show looking particularly wonderful, but the American government and its intelligence network come off worst.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Shlomo turns out to be this, because Monica faked his dossier.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Ephra and Atika's having sex in interspersed with scenes of the buildup to the bomb going off in episode seven. The blast itself coincides with Atika's orgasm.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Monica likes it to look as if she's motivated by a sincere desire for peace, but actually she's solely interested in advancing her own career. Her plan actually succeeds in the end, but in the course of carrying it out she alienates so many people that as part of the 'tidy-up' after the operation, she is discreetly assassinated and it's made to look like suicide.
  • Mercy Kill: Hugh gives one of these to Atika when she's about to be shot dead by the American agent; he orders a drone strike on her position, killing them both.
  • Never Suicide: What happens to Monica. Her plans succeed, but she's alienated so many people that, while she's asleep in bed, a black ops team infiltrates her bedroom, removes a door from its hinges, strangles her with a cord, then eases her corpse onto the door and ties the other end of the cord to a clothes hook, then replaces the door, making it look like she killed herself.
  • Rape as Drama: Nessa is raped by one of her kidnappers and becomes pregnant.
  • Sex for Services: In a rare male example, everyone assumes that this is how Hugh got and continues to keep his job. It's actually partly true, in that he is sleeping with Julia, but he is determined to prove that he can do the job too.
  • Smug Snake: Monica Chatwin, very very much.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Julia Walsh is rather glamorous, and is played by Janet McTeer who is 6'1" tall.