'The Honorable Woman' review: Maggie Gyllenhaal in Middle East thriller

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Tobias Menzies and Maggie Gyllenhaal in Tobias Menzies and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "The Honorable Woman," an eight-hour miniseries. Photo Credit: AP / SundanceTV

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REVIEW

THE SHOW "The Honorable Woman"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Thursday night at 10 on Sundance

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is the daughter of a billionaire Israeli arms merchant who was assassinated as she, her brother, Ephra (Andrew Buchan) and he were sitting down to lunch. Twenty years later, now in her 30s and living in London, she is leader of a foundation funded by her father's billions, and is intent on mending the gulf between Palestinians and Israelis -- or so she claims. In the opener, someone kidnaps the cherished son of her Palestinian nanny, Atika (Belgian-born actress Lubna Azabal). The British Secret Service becomes involved, along with its gimlet-eyed veteran investigator, Hugh Hayden-Hoyle (Stephen Rea). But the kidnapping was preceded by the apparently unrelated suicide of a Palestinian technocrat who had just been handed a huge contract by Nessa to wire the West Bank and Gaza for high-speed Internet.

MY SAY The second episode of "The Honorable Woman" promises a particularly good and taut thriller -- in spite of an opening one that insists on building Nessa's conflicted, damaged, mysterious inner world though the use of artful tracking shots and a color palette that's muted to the point of washed out.

Gyllenhaal, in her first TV series, also seems unwilling or incapable of breaking free of the shackles that have been handed her character: Emotionally inert, she's a human riddle waiting for an answer, or at least evidence of a beating heart. That, of course, is the whole idea -- secrets and how they beget more secrets until an entire life becomes a secret unto itself -- but that doesn't exactly make this eight-part series initially easy to warm up to.

But get past all that and "Woman" starts to build smartly. The web of lies, murder and betrayal certainly hint at a momentous climax, even if the unfolding tragedy in the Middle East would now appear to render whatever that is instantly trivial by comparison. And Rea - always excellent, same here - plays someone plucked straight out of le Carre: a George Smiley-type who needs to work this one last case file before retirement, "and when I leave my last case, I like to leave it... empty."

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BOTTOM LINE A beauty that requires time and patience, but at least strongly hints at a payoff that will reward both.

GRADE B+

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