Thursday, 28 October 2010


Elliot Hyams reviews HBO’s new prohibition drama.

There are certain brand names that are instantly synonymous with quality, Harley Davidson, Ferrari, Gillette, Bang and Olufsen, these are brands that have proven they deserve the reputations they have garnered by providing high quality products over and over again, HBO is a brand that deserves its place on that list. From The Wire, to The Sopranos, to Deadwood, HBO has proven time and time again that they are truly at the forefront when it comes to ground breaking drama. Which is why when trailers for its latest series Boardwalk Empire began to air it was hard not to get excited. Created by Terrance Winter, one of the minds behind the television legacy that is The Sopranos, and produced by Martin Scorsese, this one seemed like a no brainer.

Starring a cast helmed by the ever watchable Steve Buscemi the show tells the story of the power struggle that occurred following the introduction of prohibition in 1920’s America. The brunt of the plot centres on Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, Buscemi’s corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City, as he attempts to gain total control of the city through the illegal trade of alcohol, all the while battling against rival gangsters and trying to stay one step of head Michael Shannon’s square faced A.T.F agent. The show features a fantastic supporting cast routed in real history such as Michael Stuhlbarg as New York kingpin Arnold Rothstein, British actor Stephen Graham as a young Al Capone, as well as fictional characters such as Michael Pitt’s exiled war veteran Jimmy, and Kelly Macdonald as the conflicted Margaret Schroeder. Only a few episodes into the first series it has already become apparent that this is another classic. It may lack the edginess of The Wire or the cutting edge of The Sopranos this is due to the fact that it exists in the shadow of these ground breaking shows, but this takes away nothing from the overall feel of the series.

The script is fantastic, believable at all times and characters are able to show their inner thoughts without ever delving into exposition. Although sex and violence obviously feature heavily in the gangster based plot they never overburden the story allowing for small beats and nuances to become apparent on repeat viewing. The look of the show is fantastic, photo realistic reproductions of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and the characters that inhabited it allow for total immersion into the rich history of the time. Prohibition lasted just over ten years in America and the show has barely even begun to scratch the surface of the stories that came from the period. As with all historical pieces we know certain things will happen, Thompson’s empire fell and he ended up behind bars, Capone rose from the position of hired stooge to a prohibition kingpin in his own right, and prohibition finally came to an end. But the knowledge of history takes away nothing from the drama, just because we know where we are going doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey there, and what a journey Boardwalk Empire has proven to be so far.

Review by Elliot Hyams

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