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Events in Gaza bring new urgency to 'The Honorable Woman'

Strong plot, great supporting cast, incredible timeliness, and yet ...

By David Zurawik

The Baltimore Sun

6:00 AM EDT, July 30, 2014

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I can't remember the last time real-life events recontextualized a work of fiction for me the way Israel's incursion into Gaza has done with "The Honorable Woman" this month.

When I first started watching the BBC-made mini-series that starts at 10 p.m. Thursday on the Sundance Channel, I liked almost everything about it -- except Maggie Gyllenhaal. And that was a big problem, because she is the star, playing an Anglo-Israeli businesswoman, Nessa Stein, heavily involved in Middle East philanthropy and politics.

The company she and her brother inherited from their father, an Israeli arms manufacturer, is laying cable for broadband on the West Bank, and doesn't that just open up a world of possibilities for controlling the flow of information in and out of Gaza? Let the spy games and super-wiretaps begin.

I love all the smart things this film has to say about Israeli-Palestinian relationships and the tribal history and hate they are steeped in. I love the supporting cast with Stephen Rea and Janet McTeer. I love the hard-charging plot.

But, in the end, I just don't feel Gyllenhaal delivered a lead performance worthy of the rest of the production. Part of the problem may be that writer Hugo Blick was also the director, and maybe he's just not an actor's director. Gyllenhaal's scenes seemed forced, as if she's guessing about this woman who is rich, powerful and tortured.

But, given what's been happening in Gaza, I urge any and all viewers to go out of their way to watch the first hour Thursday night and judge for themselves.

We desperately need a deeper understanding of what's happening in Gaza, if we are going to be smarter than the propaganda both sides are selling. And we won't get that understanding from cable news.

"The Honorable Woman" is the kind of fiction that speaks to deeper truths.