Writer-director Hugo Blick has had a “lifelong interest” in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he was also “always interested in somebody who had the unbelievable self-belief to step into a seemingly intractable situation.” That’s what inspired him to make “The Honorable Woman,” an eight-part SundanceTV miniseries about a businesswoman, Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict while pursuing an ambitious project that she hopes will be a step towards peace in the region.
The Middle East is a contentious subject, so Blick was “relieved by the balanced consideration from both sides,” but he hopes the story will also reach viewers who don’t feel as personally connected to the conflict. “That’s sort of the primary purpose of the piece,” says Blick. “It’s about a woman who in a way thought it was nothing to do with her … I think that journey that Nessa Stein took allowed an audience who are unfamiliar with the environment and with the arguments to take that journey with her and become more aware.”
It was also important to Blick to tell his story from the point of view of women: in addition to Nessa, the miniseries focuses on Atika (Lubna Azabal), a Palestinian translator and nanny who is closely connected to Nessa, and Julia Walsh (Janet McTeer), the head of MI6. “Male archetypes or male heroes often batter at a problem straight on, so you’ve got a Bruce Willis kind of experience,” Blick explains. “I was really interested in saying, well let’s take a thriller structure but place women in the center, women who weren’t archetypes, women who would come at a problem not from a straight-on, masculine, battering position, but come at it from an elliptical angle.”
At the heart of the miniseries is Gyllenhaal’s Golden Globe-winning performance. “I thought that she would be able to express the dilemmas and dichotomies within Nessa Stein beautifully because she has great strength, which is immediately apparent, and then the subtext of indecision, uncertainty,” says Blick of his decision to cast her. “I think genuinely it was a brave choice of Maggie to take on.”
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