Boardwalk Empire preview – making the small screen an offer you can’t refuse

Posted on 28 January 2011
By Matt Barden
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Television was tried, convicted and sentenced for the brutal murder of radio and it now appears to be the prime suspect in the recent disappearance of decent movies.

While Hollywood re-hashes old concepts and floods cinemas with miserable rom-coms and Saw 97, TV has muscled in as the driving force for innovative, ground breaking and just good old fashioned entertainment.

Boardwalk Empire is about to smash British screens, the latest US drama in a long line of substantial, high-quality programming.

Directed by don of gangster flicks Martin Scorcese and starring Steve Buscemi as Atlantic City treasurer and all round deviant, Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (based on real-life racketeer Enoch Johnson), Boardwalk Empire gives us a front row seat for the beginning of Prohibition in 1920’s America.

Fresh off the back of two Golden Globe awards; Best Dramatic Series and a Best Actor Award in a TV Drama for Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire follows in the footsteps of The Sopranos and Mad Men, with a season of twelve 40 minute mini cinematic experiences.

Amidst all the jazz, shady dealing and back room boozing, New Jersey and her inhabitants come to life. Aside from Buscemi, who steals pretty much every scene he’s in, is a stellar supporting cast, notably Liverpool’s own Stephen Graham (Snatch, This Is England) as a young and upcoming Al Capone.

No expense was spared in creating Terrence Winter’s (former Soprano’s writer) vision for the small screen.

A reported $20 million (£12.5 million) was spent on the pilot alone and each episode after that costing over $5 million a pop. HBO will have to move a hell of a lot of bootleg bourbon for season two.

But the result is nothing short of remarkable, from the period dress to the stunning replica Atlantic City set; the show oozes class and authenticity.

Thanks to the Prohibition Act being passed, Nucky, never slow to seize an opportunity, begins to control the bootlegging of alcohol in and out of Atlantic City.

The criminal prospects that arise begin to attract all types of gangsters and chancers and organised crime slowly begins to take seed. The show weaves its way around several storylines, most interestingly the life of Nucky’s protégé James Darmody (Michael Pitt) and the flawed relationship between Nucky and recent widow Margaret Schroeder (played by Brit actress Kelly Macdonald).

Schroeder is the antithesis of the other female characters in Boardwalk, which mainly consist of hookers, dancers and frightened housewives, none more noticeably than Lucy Danziger (Paz De La Huerta), who seems to spend most of her airtime topless, in someone’s bed or both.

Schroeder represents the new voice of feminism, strong women more than willing to stand up to the men and who, having just won the right to vote, can no longer be ignored.

But with the creation of a genuine Sin City comes questions. The FBI, keen to clampdown on bootleggers, send the long arm of the law to investigate Nucky and the goings on in Atlantic City.

Headed up by Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), a twisted Federal Prohibition Agent who seems to give the gangsters a run for their money in terms of evil doings, the agents start to sniff around Nucky and his lavish lifestyle for a politician.

Faced with dilemmas from all sides; women, gangsters, elections, the FBI and family, Nucky definitely needs a drink or two.

The show gives the tired gangster genre a well needed overhaul, much like The Sopranos did eleven years ago.

But despite the similarities Nucky is no Tony, the show doesn’t focus on family life and the stress of the job at hand, instead it brings to life an entire period jam packed with interesting characters with just enough humanity and depth to keep you wanting more.

Television has sent film to sleep with the fishies.
Boardwalk Empire airs on new channel Sky Atlantic on February 1 at 9pm.