Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Under the Boardwalk, Down by the Sea: HBO does it again

Kelly McDonald as Irish immigrant
Margaret Shroeder
Finally got around to cracking the dusty boxset of Boardwalk Empire last night and all I can say is: Why did I wait so long?  It is seriously excellent so far.  My wife and I have watched the first five episodes of series 1 and are enjoying it immensely.  As per recent posts, Boardwalk Empire is based on 'real' historical events and characters from prohibition-era Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Interestingly enough, and for much the same reason I explained of my own work in the previous post, the creator of Boardwalk--Terrence Winter, of Sopranos fame--took the figure of notorious political fixer/racketeer Enoch 'Nucky' Johnson and lightly fictionalised him as Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson so as to have more creative freedom with the story.

Enoch 'Nucky' Johnson and Steve Buscemi as
Enoch 'Nucky' Thomson
A few points from last night's viewing: 1) Steve Buscemi is wonderful as the crooked but complex Nucky.  His portrayal of venal...scratch that...mortal corruption would make the Mahon Tribunal blanche.  2)  Kelly McDonald, as the Irish immigrant Margaret Schroeder, (from Kerry--Schroeder is her married name though her husband...well, you'll have to watch it yourself...) is good and growing on me as a performance though the accent is dialogue-coach-101 for the most part.  McDonald is a fine actress--she was great in No Country for Old Men, where her accent was, to my ears, authentic and consistent--but could they not have found an actress from Kerry or Ireland at very least?  
Stephen Graham as Combo in
This is England
3)  Stephen Graham, conversely, is brilliant as a young Al Capone, despite hailing from Liverpool.  He is also a great actor and was cinema's most convincing psycho-skinhead in Shane Meadows' wonderful This is England.  I don't, in this case, mind that he's not actually from Brooklyn.  4) The sets are great but some of the panoramic CGI looks not a whole lot better than those shots of Atlanta burning in Gone With the Wind.  Technology is a funny old thing, but frankly, my dear, a minor quibble.

Martin Scorcese is an executive producer and directs the first episode, which I feel to be the best thing he's done on screen since Casino, though I've hardly seen everything he's done since then.  There is one long, Goodfellas-like tracking shot that roves along the boardwalk and into a dance hall only hours before the introduction of the Volstead Act and prohibition which is simply brilliant film-making.  

I'm surprised this series hasn't gotten the same resounding acclaim as, say, The Wire or The Sopranos.  Much like them, this is storytelling at its very best, most complex.  It makes one wonder (worry!), as a novelist, if the novel form is weaker as a vehicle for storytelling than high-quality, HBO-like TV series.  Any thoughts?