10 March 2011

Boardwalk Empire: bloody brilliant telly, once you get past the dodgy Kerry accent...

Nucky Thompson
There might not be much right with the rest of the world but we are definitely living through a new Golden Age of Television. Having been thoroughly absorbed by clever, complex and compelling shows like The Wire, Mad Men and, er, Fade Street, I was only too delighted to welcome Boardwalk Empire to my life.
This 1920s mobster drama actually has a lot in common with the shows I mentioned above: you’re dropped into a vivid but unfamiliar world, populated by a host of intriguing characters whose individual stories gradually unfold throughout the series.
While this can be confusing - you’re expected to keep up without explanation or constant repetition of plot – it’s also incredibly rewarding. The show just gets better and better, episode by episode, with excellent storytelling and countless subplots as Sopranos writer Terence Winters slowly develops his characters.  
It’s a big, stylish, extravagant production too - the pilot episode, directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, is said to have cost $20 million alone. (Scorsese is also an executive producer and continues to be creatively involved.) But make no mistake: while Boardwalk Empire is choc-a-bloc with gangsters, booze, violence, politics, prostitution and great period costumes, what it’s really about is the people.

Set in Atlantic City, the action centres around the charismatic but corrupt county treasurer, Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson - brilliantly played by Steve Buscemi – as he endeavours to keep his city, known as The World's Playground, 'wet as a mermaid's twat’ throughout the dry days of prohibition.
He’s well matched in Margaret Schroeder, played by Trainspotting’s Kelly Macdonald: once we get past what is possibly the worst Irish accent I’ve ever heard, we find an intelligent, complex and morally ambiguous leading lady who is all the more interesting for it.  

Margaret & Nucky
The rest of the cast are equally good. In a stellar cast, Michael Pitt as the intense, troubled Jimmy Darmody, Michael Shannon as the creepy Van Alden and Stephen Grahama as the young Al Capone stand out.  And I was thrilled to see Michael K Little, who played Omar in The Wire, turn up here as Chalky White.

In fact, my only complaint about the first series (leaving Margaret’s accent to one side) is that Chalky doesn’t get nearly enough screen time for my liking.
This is brilliant, beautiful telly, and I cannot wait for Series Two.
Are you watching? What do you make of it?  
Van Alden
Photo credit: All images from the Boardwalk Empire Facebook page
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