Skip Navigation
NPR News
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein in the SundanceTV original series The Honorable Woman. (Courtesy of Sundance)

Maggie Gyllenhaal Is 'The Honorable Woman': A Series Both Ruthless And Rewarding

Jul 31, 2014 (Fresh Air)

Share this


The Honorable Woman is a co-production between the Sundance Channel, which premieres the eight-part miniseries beginning Thursday, and England's BBC-2, where viewers already have seen about half the episodes. So have I. And while I expected The Honorable Woman to be topical and potentially controversial, given its setting and premise, I didn't expect it to be so involving, or so intense. Or so good.

The Honorable Woman is produced, written and directed by Hugo Blick, who hasn't broken through in the States yet - but probably will now. TV viewers who were drawn to the political intrigues and moral complexities of Showtime's Homeland, will be very, very pleased by The Honorable Woman. But so should viewers who revel in the unsettling surprises and shocking violence of HBO's Game of Thrones and AMC's The Walking Dead - because The Honorable Woman is one of the most ruthless TV dramas I've ever seen. Major characters in this miniseries not only die without warning - they die without foreshadowing, and without dignity, like flies being swatted suddenly.

Even before the opening credits roll, The Honorable Woman demonstrates this quickly, and graphically. The very first scene is a flashback showing lunch at a fancy restaurant, where a young girl and boy fidget and joke with one another while their father tries to settle them down. The waiter who serves them dinner rolls with a pair of sharp tongs then uses the same tongs to stab their father in the throat. He dies as they watch in stunned disbelief, and as the little girl is dotted with his blood. Meanwhile, the adult voice of that girl is heard on the soundtrack, offering some perspective from the distant future. She's played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who adopts a British accent, and an understandably wary attitude, to portray the grown-up Nessa Stein.

It's unusual, and a little refreshing, to see an American actress travel overseas to play someone with a British accent, given how many Brits are playing Americans on TV over here. But Gyllenhaal nails more than just the accent. She's playing a very complicated, hard-to-read character: a British baroness with an Israeli passport, an Internet communications executive who has just been appointed a seat in the House of Lords, and a visionary who wants to donate money and resources to the West Bank. She thinks that improving conditions there, and making the Internet more available, is the key to prospects for peace. But others disagree - sometimes very violently. The Honorable Woman includes killings and kidnappings, seductions and betrayals, and Nessa's obsession about trust turns out to be very central to her character, and to the drama itself.

Every step Nessa takes, or doesn't take, is followed or influenced or thwarted by those around her - especially her business-partner brother Ephra, played by Andrew Buckman, and a British Intelligence officer played by the always intriguing Stephen Rea. MI-6, American spies, the Israelis, the Palestinians - they're all in play here, and they're not playing. Some of the power struggles are for money or territory; others are sexual. There's a lot of tension between men and women here, corporate as well as cultural - and Gyllenhaal is fearless about exploring and portraying it all.

Writer-director Blick peels back and reveals the elements of his story, and the motivations and relationships of his characters, very slowly. A scream you hear in episode one isn't explained until episode four — and the pain behind anguished glances isn't evident until you've clocked hours of TV time. But by that time, The Honorable Woman has taken you places where TV seldom ventures. Not only to the tunnels under the Gaza Strip - and I couldn't believe I was seeing scenes set in those tunnels, after they've figured so prominently in the news - but to the deepest fears and hopes and dreams and despairs of the show's characters. Politically, The Honorable Woman doesn't take sides - it comes at you from all sides. And all sides are given motivations and conflicts, which makes this miniseries both a rare and a rewarding viewing experience. The characters in The Honorable Woman may not know whom to trust - but trust me. This is one TV drama not to miss.

David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching, and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Nessa Stein in the SundanceTV original series The Honorable Woman. (Courtesy of Sundance)

Vinnie Bharara and Marc Lore, Co-Founders Of Diapers.com

Jul 31, 2014

Hear this

This text will be replaced
Launch in player

Share this


Host Jessica Harris speaks with Vinnie Bharara and Marc Lore, co-founders of Diapers.com. Harris also speaks with Jonathan Cedar, co-founder of Biolite, a company that makes off-the-grid cooking stoves meant for use in developing countries and on camping trips.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Not all cows get to spend their days with soft green grass under hoof. For many, the picture isn't so pretty, according to the book Farmageddon. (Getty Images)

Seeking A Saner Food System, Three Times A Day

Jul 31, 2014

Hear this

Launch in player

Share this


For Philip Lymbery, head of the U.K.-based Compassion in World Farming and his co-author Isabel Oakeshott, a visit to California's Central Valley amounted to an encounter with suffering.

In Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, Lymbery and Oakeshott write that the mega-dairies of the Central Valley are "milk factories where animals are just machines that rapidly break down and are replaced." At one huge dairy they visited, cows stood idly outdoors, some in shade and some in the sun. No grass cushioned their feet and certainly none was available to eat since, like almost all factory-farm cows, the animals were maintained on an unnatural diet of crops such as corn. The stench in the air was "a nauseous reek."

This same scene was repeated "every couple of kilometres, all with several thousand cows surrounded by mud, corrugated iron and concrete."

The hurt in Central Valley extends beyond cows to humans.

The 1.75 million cows in California generate, according to Lymbery and Oakeshott, more fecal waste than the human population of the U.K. Most of the waste matter flows to lagoons near the farms. But some escapes into the air as gas and into the ground (and water supply) through seepage. Water and air pollution, linked in part to the mega-dairies, is an immense worry for residents of the Central Valley, where, the authors report, children have a rate of asthma nearly three times above the national average and adult life expectancies are lower by up to a decade than the national average.

Similar disastrous circumstances surround mega-piggeries and industrial chicken farms in the U.S. And when those animals are turned into meat, there's enormous wastage. The single saddest statistic I have read in the realm of animal welfare comes from Farmageddon: the amount of meat discarded globally each year is equivalent to 11.6 billion chickens or 270 million pigs or 59 million cattle.

Lymbery and Oakeshott's answer to "Well, what can we do?" hit home for me. Positive change is in our hands, they insist. In the U.K. where they live, the scale of industrial agriculture is not yet huge and, even in countries like the U.S. where it is huge, there's hope. They write:

"Avoiding Farmageddon is easy as long as we buy products from animals reared on the land (free-range, organic), favour local producers or retailers that we trust, eat what we buy and therefore reduce food waste, and avoid overeating meat, we can fill our plates in ways that benefit the countryside, our health and animal welfare."

"Easy" sounds too Pollyanna-ish to my ears, but I did love the mantra adopted in the book:

"Each of us has three great opportunities a day to help make a kinder, saner food system through the [meal] choices we make."

It's a simple yet powerful message: At every breakfast, lunch and dinner, we make food choices that move us either towards a saner food system or further away.

My review of Farmageddon, published last week in the Times Literary Supplement, was positive. Even so, I gave Lymbery and Oakeshott a bit of a hard time for avoiding the topic of vegetarianism.

No, I'm not suggesting that everyone become vegetarian (or vegan). And I don't think meat-eaters are misguided! Though I don't eat cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, goats or cephalopods like the octopus, I do eat fish on occasion and I have recently sampled insect cuisine (cricket cookies and grasshopper tacos). I'm no purist on this topic.

And I remember from last year Tania's "can't we all just get along?" post: none of us benefits by judging others' food habits (or worrying excessively that others are judging ours).

Still, in a book that tackles how we might eat smarter for the environment, for other animals, and for ourselves, I think it's too timid to stop at "eat less meat" and not discuss the "eat no meat" option.

And what about "eat no fish"? On this topic, Farmageddon has something thought-provoking to say, as I noted in my TLS review:

"'Fish farms are the forgotten factory farms under the water', according to Lymbery, 'and one of the fastest-growing sectors of intensive animal rearing.' Cataracts and fish and tail injuries plague the farmed salmon and trout confined in tiny spaces. Around the world, about 100 billion fish are farmed every year, a number that exceeds all the terrestrial farm animals put together."

"The result of all this effort is bleak: consumers eat fatty, chemical-laden fish, and the farmed fish, when they escape (Lymbery describes 'mass breakouts'), harm the wild fish stocks, through competition for food and places to spawn, and outright cannibalism."

About my pescatarian diet, and the type of fish I choose now and again for lunch or dinner, I'm thinking twice.

And three times.


Barbara's most recent book on animals was released in paperback in April. You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Mike Zovath, co-founder of Answers in Genesis ministries, poses for photos at the Ark Encounter headquarters, in 2011. Kentucky has granted the project tens of millions in tax incentives. (AP)

Kentucky Buoys Noah's Ark Park With Millions In New Tax Breaks

Jul 31, 2014

Hear this

Launch in player

Share this


Kentucky has approved $18 million in new tax breaks for a controversial Christian theme park that is to feature a 510-foot-long replica of Noah's Ark.

Maryanne Zeleznik of member station WVXU in Cincinnati reports that the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the incentives for the Ark Encounter, to be built in Williamstown.

As we reported in January, the project nearly foundered as recently as January when the Christian non-profit Answers in Genesis — which also operates the Creation Museum and is leading the effort to build the new theme park — was close to triggering a redemption of unrated municipal bonds because it had fallen short of selling the $29 million it needed.

Answers in Genesis is headed by Ken Ham, who in February engaged in a high-profile debate with Bill Nye "The Science Guy." The debate, which was streamed live online, pitted Ham's Biblical literalism, which among other things includes the belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, against Nye, who argued for Darwinian evolution. Later, Ham said the debate, widely seen as having been won by Nye (although there was, naturally, disagreement), prompted a funding "miracle" that saved the project.

As Zeleznik reports:

"The project is slated to include a facsimile of Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel, and will proselytize Christian evangelicalism to patrons, an Answers in Genesis spokesman said.

"Finance board chairman Keith Williams said the project was evaluated like any other that comes before the panel, and a preliminary analysis of its economic impact showed benefits for the state.

"'They could produce a good amount of tourism for the state of Kentucky,' said Williams, who was appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear, a supporter of the project. 'It could help the hotel industry, the restaurant industry in that entire area. So if that is the case, and it does boost tourism, then they, yeah, they meet that criteria.'"

The price tag on the project, which held a ceremonial ground-breaking in May, has shifted around since it was unveiled in 2011. It's also been plagued by delays and repeated funding crises.

WVXU reports that Kentucky initially granted $43 million worth of tax breaks to the $173 million project, but it was unclear if the ambition plan would go beyond a $78 million "first phase."

If the project fails to generate sufficient revenue and economic activity for the surrounding area, Kentucky has the right to revoke the incentives.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
A neighborhood resident walks through a building in Timbuktu, used by al-Qaida-linked jihadi fighters for more than a year. Last year, The Associated Press found al-Qaida documents in the building. (AP)

Kidnapping Is A Lucrative Business For Al-Qaida, Documents Show

Jul 31, 2014 (Fresh Air)

Hear this

Launch in player

Share this


A recent report by journalist Rukmini Callimachi details al-Qaida's strategy of kidnapping Europeans and demanding large ransoms — and how those ransoms are a key source of funding for al-Qaida operations.

"Europe is funneling these enormous sums of money to al-Qaida," Callimachi, a foreign correspondent with The New York Times, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "They're reluctantly and unwillingly becoming al-Qaida's main patron."

Last year, while she was the West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, Callimachi found thousands of al-Qaida documents in Timbuktu in northern Mali.

Al-Qaida left behind the pages just after a French-led military intervention drove the jihadi fighters out of the area, where they had imposed a harsh version of Islamic law. The documents include directives and letters from al-Qaida commanders.

Now at the Times, Callimachi continues to cover al-Qaida and synthesize the information in the documents.


Interview Highlights

On al-Qaida's highly detailed record-keeping

When I came back with these receipts, and we started translating them, these thousands and thousands of receipts for things like onions and a kilo of tomatoes and a receipt for a 60-cent piece of cake that somebody ate — it made us laugh. And I guess it made us laugh because we assumed that terrorists are these bad guys with guns — and violent, etc. — and we have assumed that's divorced from these bureaucratic procedures that we see at play here.

In fact, people that have covered al-Qaida and studied the group longer than me say they've found the exact same thing in Afghanistan. It's partly the DNA of Osama bin Laden, who started out life as a businessman. He was the son of a very wealthy entrepreneur, and he started out as a young man trying to run his own companies. ... Even when he ran his own companies, he was obsessed with bureaucracy. People that worked for him in Sidon [in Lebanon] remember having to turn in triplicate receipts with carbon copies for things like replacing bicycle tires or car tires.

On finding the bodies of Arab victims of revenge killings by members of Mali's army after al-Qaida was driven out

The bodies were all buried in the dunes just north of Timbuktu. And the thing that's peculiar about the dunes is you have this undulating surface of sand. And all day and all night the wind blows, and it creates these beautiful little ripples. It looks like the bottom of the ocean, so as soon as anybody makes a hole, it creates a disturbance in the sand that you can see from a distance.

And so initially people would tell me, "We saw the soldiers go in this direction or that direction." And we would just walk, and we'd find a disturbance in the sand. And then we'd return with the family members of the deceased.

And I know that this is kind of an unusual way for a reporter to behave, but at a certain point, there were no reporters left in Timbuktu. And whenever a person was taken, the family would call me. ... And I started to feel this strange sense of responsibility, that I was their only hope for finding answers for their missing loved ones.

On the link between ransoms and jihadi kidnappers' treatment of their hostages

They go out and grab these 32 Europeans. And we were able to find, through some good luck and sources, ... essentially a home video that the hostage takers made in 2003 of this operation. And the footage is fascinating because it shows the interaction between the kidnappers and their European victims. And the interaction is quite cordial.

There [are] moments in time where you see the Europeans smiling, joking with them. They're flashing a thumbs-up sign. And it's clear to me from watching this footage [that] they had not taken these people with the aim of killing them. ... In fact, there's a moment when one of the Europeans was about to faint. He has a drop in blood pressure from the heat in the Sahara, and you see one of the jihadists rushing with a compress to put on his forehead and try to cool him down.

On the ransoms paid by some European countries

So the ransoms I was able to confirm total at least $125 million over the past five years [paid in cases of al-Qaida kidnappings in Africa]. And I believe that's the tip of the iceberg, because there [are] numerous kidnappings where I was told by the negotiators a ransom was paid, but I was not able to get them to tell me the amount.

And so this comes at the same time the world has become much more astute and much better at putting financial sanctions in place that have made it very hard for al-Qaida to funnel money through charities — or to use the banking system, to use any sort of traditional banking system. So at the same time that they're cracking down there, Europe is funneling these enormous sums of money to al-Qaida, and, as we said, they're reluctantly and unwillingly becoming al-Qaida's main patron.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.