This new drama, The Honourable Woman, has been hyped madly, though most of the praise seems to be about the star's mastering of a posh English accent. Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, and directed by the BAFTA-winning Hugo Blick, it's about Nessa Stein, the daughter of a fabulously wealthy, and horribly murdered, Israeli businessman. She takes over his company, The Stein Group, but is determined to do good and so steers it towards philanthropy.
After a bloody and startling opening scene, the story flashes forward 29 years. We see Nessa delivering a speech about how the company will invest in broadband for Palestine because zippy communications will defeat terror. We also learn she's delivering this speech in the very room of her father's murder. We also learn about her brother in this speech. Oh - we learn so much, and all in this one lengthy speech, because the scriptwriters did what every writer is taught to avoid: clumsy exposition. Using a speech to dump masses of information is a mark of poor writing. It would be far too subtle, apparently, to allow this same information to emerge via other means such as character development and plot. Instead, we're told to sit up, stop chewing at the back, and listen whilst lots and lots of numbing information is spoken at us.
Nessa gives her speech and is congratulated and then she gets into limousines and gives more speeches and more people applaud her. Then - unbelievably - there's yet more weary exposition when she sits down to give a radio interview, allowing her to helpfully spell out yet more detail to the viewers about what the hell is going on.
This is a clumsy device and I'm sure the need to avoid such blatant 'information dumping' appears on Page 7 of the Bumper Book of Creative Writing. Perhaps there is just so much detail to be revealed in this drama that the writers had no option but to treat us like restless pupils trying to sneak open a packet of Space Invaders at the back of the class, but this is an eight-part series. They have time and space in which to unfurl their plot but if this is the clunking way they choose to do it, then I'm not impressed.
Underneath the maddening exposition was an intricate story trying to be told. As Nessa mingles with the glitterati of London, a businessman who has just won a contract with her company is hanged from a rooftop flagpole, and no-one is sure whether it was murder or suicide. Meanwhile, in between the diplomacy and the death and the speeches and the smiles, we keep seeing a young boy - a member of Nessa's family though his exact relation isn't stated. The camera continually zooms in on his watch. It seems like some oversized novelty thing from the 1980s with a blue glowing screen. The camera lingers on it, again and again, as it glows and ticks and beeps. I kept expecting it to blow up. There must be a reason why we keep being forced to gawp at it. The reason becomes clear at the end but, again, the heavy hand of the scriptwriters in forcing our attention on it was irritating. Look at this watch, you plebs, and notice it! Something important will happen later, so make a note of the funny thing on his wrist. Pay attention, you idiots. Sit up straight at the back!
There was also a subplot going on, with some men from MI5 playing chess and having sinister chats in corridors, but I have no idea what this was about. I don't consider myself a stupid person but I simply could not grasp what they were doing and so can't imagine what link they will have to the story or how they'll eventually come to intertwine with Nessa and the boy with the magic watch. It was odd how the writers desperately shoved some things under our noses but left others aspects vague and wispy.
Just as I was getting weary of this tangled, tiresome drama, the final ten minutes made me change my mind. It was jammed full of action and tension, with a brilliant, panicky scene in a crowded theatre then moving to a chilly London park at the dead of night. It was good, tense stuff, albeit with some cliched James Bond moments thrown in as sleek men in dinner jackets dashed around with guns. However, these final ten minutes, and the grisly opening scene, were scant compensation for the forty minutes of tedium and tetchy confusion which lay in between.