The Honourable Woman

Please do not let yourself be fooled into wasting any of the precious few minutes of life that we have in this world watching the new British miniseries The Honourable Woman.

This is not a spelling mistake. That is how they spell honorable in England.

This pretentious program, which stars Maggie Gylenhall, purports to be a sincere attempt to depict the complex issues at the center of the Arab-Israel conflict.

It does not.

From a purely technical perspective the series is boring, slow moving, filled with silly wooden characters and a waste of some truly excellent actors, such as Stephen Rhea and Gylenhall, who seem to have been told by the director to deliver their lines as if they are sleepwalking.

The story itself feels like a bad rip off of a bad Robert Ludlum novel. The heroine Stein, played by Gylenhall, is the British daughter of a successful Israeli businessman. At the opening of the series she was just appointed to the House of Lords. When Stein was a little girl she witnessed her father get stabbed to death at the hands of an Arab terrorist.

Now she has set out to singlehandedly bring peace to the Middle East.

I’m wondering what possessed the usually reliable and excellent actress Gylenhall to do this project. Maybe it was because it gave the American a chance to practice her fake British accent.

In a television interview promoting the show she recently came off as unbelievably pretentious as she described how much she learned about the conflict just by making the show. I wonder why, then, she isn’t being interviewed daily on the world news channels about the current fighting in Gaza.

Some people are actually saying that its recent premiere in America is somehow timely.

No! It is not!

I have only seen the first four episodes which already aired in England. It’s run on the cable Sundance Channel in America only began last week. The fact that Sundance was the only channel that wanted it says a lot.

But here are some examples of this show’s misleading portrayals that betray its producers’ complete lack of real knowledge or understanding of anything that actually has to do with Israel and the overall conflict.

I do not like reviews which give away important plot points, but I will make an exception here because it is the only way I know to describe how bad The Honourable Woman really is.

At one point Gylenhall sneaks into Gaza via a tunnel to investigate what happened to a $1.5 million donation that her foundation gave to a Palestinian university in the West Bank. Apparently that money was somehow diverted to the Hamas in Gaza.

She is then kidnapped by terrorists and considering her purported fame and importance this somehow does not become an international incident.

We later find out that the money was actually a secret payment made on Israel’s behalf to win the release of a captured soldier. We earlier saw a news report showing the soldier’s release that explained that the leaders of the Palestinian Authority convinced his captors to release him.

What? The Hamas released an Israeli soldier for a lousy $1.5 million when they have pilfered millions and millions of dollars from the foreign aid given Gaza for their own use.

Are we really supposed to believe that they would allow the world to think that they gave in to diplomatic pressure and released the soldier without getting anything in return?

Also, there is an American woman who is somehow involved in the suspected murder of an Arab businessman in London. She is outed as an FBI agent on a secret mission. That is how awful the writing is here. No one at any point in the show’s production bothered to correct this mistake. The FBI is not a spy agency and does not send its agents on secret missions outside the US. I guess they meant to call her a CIA agent.

A caricature of an Israeli intelligence agent based in London at one point gives a British policeman a speech about how Jews have suffered for the last 2,000 years. His dialogue here seems to have been taken from a cheesy 80s thriller and sounds like what someone who has never met an Israeli might imagine one would say.

Is there more? Unfortunately yes? But I won’t torture you with further examples of The Honourable Woman’s conceits.

I’ll just leave you with this one word description of it: Pretentious, pompous, stupid, dull and atrocious.

Oh wait that’s five.

I guess my math skills are on a par with the show’s quality.

I don’t know if I’ll bother watching the rest of the series but if I do and find it to be so much better than the first half as to change my opinion of it then I will start preparing for the coming of the Mashiach.

If you want to see something of real quality that gives at least in some way an accurate portrayal of what goes on here then see Hatufim, the Israeli television series on which Homeland is based or the Israeli movie Bethlehem.

About the author


Gil Tanenbaum made aliyah from New York after he completed college. He Has lived in Israel for over 20 years. He has an MBA from Bar Ilan University and is a contributor for various blogs.


  • I appeal to all readers of your article to do exactly as you ask of them “please don’t waste precious minutes of your life” reading this poor example of TV criticism. The intellectual immaturity of the whole piece is summed up by saying how the British spell Honourable is incorrect, how boorish and childish. I think the English language is fairly safe in British hands just as Hebrew would be in Israel.
    The whole article is based on fear. Fear that someone may use Israel as a country that may deal in betrayal and mistrust.
    The xenophobia glares through in such a trenchant fashion it’s scary. The TV series was obviously conceived way before the present Gaza crisis. So calm down and let a brilliant dramatist, cast and production team continue to enthral the millions of people that are saying it’s the best TV drama of 2014.

    • Keith, the author said ‘honourable’ wasn’t a spelling mistake – not that it was incorrect! I suppose you wouldn’t be the first, though, to allow bias to turn you into an unwitting liar.

      Politics aside, the central actors of The Honourable Woman are unquestionably talented. Unfortunately, however, at least for this viewer, the writing of this series, both in terms of plot devices and dialogue, is consistently subpar, overtly manipulative, implausible, and to a less important degree, intermittently and unnecessarily crass (as if to serve some sort of counterweight to its atmosphere of otherwise outsized pomposity).

      Meanwhile, I’m still holding out hope that Hatufim will be worth watching.

  • Is it just possible that this vitriolic piece is written by one of those ultra-orthodox bigots who made aliyah to Israel in order to participate in the disgraceful Greater Israel policy by breeding a large family and imposing them on new settlements beyond Israel’s legal boundaries? Sounds very much like it

  • I think that the above comments speak for themselves. No I am not ultra orthodox, nor do I live on a settlement, nor am I a right wing extremist and no I was not mocking the British. This show is just plain bad and it is completely inaccurate.

    • Get over it! It’s brilliant drama. Compared to Homeland which was so cliched in its depiction of its hero/traitor story line it felt like a poor western. The Honourable Woman takes on board how people act in real life in bad or good circumstances. The story line shows society at its most dangerous. It’s about betrayal and deceipt and guess what spying.
      The fact that Israel is at the geographical centre of the story shows the dramatist concerns. In fact frankly most of western democracy concerns.
      Sorry it doesn’t show the picture of Israel that you feel the production team should show, but it’s called creative freedom of expression. Plus what’s inaccurate about it? It’s a drama not a documentary.

    • I agree with your review entirely. this is an awful piece of melodrama. The writing is childish; the plot is forced and requires far too much suspension of disbelief.
      The problem is that viewers want this type of mindless trash. They are not critical viewers, and one cannot argue with those who don’t have any sense of quality.

  • Great reply Keith. I agree with your sentiments regarding the immaturity expressed in this article. It is quite apparent that the author is allowing his personal situation and beliefs to cloud his judgement of this drama. I think it is an excellent piece of work (so far), and rather perfectly, if a little fortunately, timed. It is also rather disappointing that the author fails to realise (or should I be writing “realize”) that English English has been around just a little longer than American English and as a commentator, should be a little more understanding of the subtle differences in the spellings of some words. Gil, it’s only a drama (i.e. fiction) – come up with a better reason to not watch it. Your Facebook page indicates to me you might be in the wrong profession in your criticism of this drama. Lighten up. We only live once. #peace

  • What a one sided review. This show seems to portray a complex and two-sided view to the situation. To feel that it is inaccurate might suggest that you see things in Israel and Palestine as one-sided. In this show, as in reality, there are no goodies or baddies, just people.

  • I am very disappointed in Maggie Gynnehalls portrayal of Nessa, I think she isn’t at all believable as the part of Nessa.

  • Inaccurate and implausible it may be in parts but it’s by far the best piece of drama I have seen for a long time. I make time to see as its broadcast and on occasions on iPlayer. The bbc should be congratulated for putting on a series with complex twists and turns over several weeks plus it is not interspersed with mind numbing adverts.

  • Please don’t read this! The fact that your opening gambit is your observation (shock horror) that the Brits spell “honourable” in the old fashioned way certainly made me laugh. Do you not like British accents either? It’s the only reason I can suppose why you don’t think this is quality drama… As far as the Israeli-Palestinian thing is concerned, I think this is a really quite balanced bit of TV. I really don’t get why you hate this series so much. And I don’t understand why you are pleadeing for people not to watch it. What on earth are you afraid of?

  • oh my God, why are all these brits so hyper sensitive? did I really need to specify that the opening line was meant for Americans and was not an insult? Duh I guess I’m just a dumb American? Or maybe the people who are getting all bothered over a TV show are the dumb ones.

      • I beg to differ. I would say a number of people here are simply misreading Gil’s words if they think his remark concerning the spelling difference between ‘honorable’ and ‘honourable’ was included in his attempt at being pejorative (unless Gil changed the wording of his article in the intervening months since it first appeared, which is conceivable). To me, focusing on this insignificant side remark almost seems like a straw-man tactic meant to discredit Gil, but I doubt it’s a conscious one.

        Truth be told, there aren’t many things in this world that can please everyone all the time, and maybe that’s how it should be. No matter what one thinks of this particular TV series, those of us participating in such a comment section should be ashamed at the ease of which we dole out insults, as if doing so is standard fare whenever humans disagree.

  • Before making comments about how to spell, please make sure you can spell yourself! Maggie is called Gyllenhaal, not Gyllenhall.
    An American telling us how to spell? I don’t think so!
    Ronnie de Vries

  • You suggest it’s so bad, yet you made it all the way to episode 7..saddo!

  • It’s art not real life, and excellent art. In real life of course Schlomo, who managed a ‘Jesus Christ, Nessa’, in episode 7 (!) is a much more important character, he’s the guy who sells Iron Dome and its successors to the US, and thus ensures you’ll always use the veto.

  • In reading the article writers responses to some of the comments, its become clear he is incapable of reasoned debate and takes criticism badly. Probably best to stay away from the internet then, and judging by the articles uninformed contents and petulant and xenophobic responses to its feedback, stay away from published writing. I’m sorry I wasted my time

  • So I’m reading the above comments, first of all, Ronnie de Vries is an idiot! How stupid do you have to be to not understand what I said. And as for you D, I think you meant to say Masaco and not Saddo. I keep watching just so that I can write about it. Finally, Stuart, if you actually read any of my responses I have only been pointing out that morons like you keep making comments without actually having read what I said or are you just too stupid to understand it?

  • its ‘REA’ not RHEA, and ‘GYLLENHALL’ not ‘GYLENHALL’If you can’t even get that right, love, you have no business messing with things that don’t concern you.

  • I stare in dismay at the interchanges above, the usual furore of insults, point-scoring and deeply subjective critiques of a piece of work opened out o mud slinging by this blogger. “Please don’t watch…” has a gloriously counter-productive end – “don’t eat that ice cream…” springs to mind. THW was utterly brilliant and compelling, credible, a powerful non-polemic dealing with a very complex situation and which steered a very clear course by not taking sides. I salute its creativity, its acting, its writing and direction – the moment quality British TV like this stops being produced, whatever our quibbles, we are destined for anodyne doom. If you haven’t seen this brilliant series, watch now!

  • It’s worrying that you take such a dictatorial stance in your review – it completely discredits your opinions and undermines your more studied observations.

    • Gil tends to be dictatorial but at least he inspired discussion which is a good thing, no?

  • It was garbage wasn’t it Gil,totally farcical,comical even.
    And anti- Israeli to boot.
    Typical BBC in other words.

  • Happy to know I am not alone. The show is pretentious and more typically British spy show then anything to do with the middle east. Too sleek. Prisoners of War is a great Israel tv series which Homeland is based on. Very real. I am Canadian if that matters.

  • I mean happy to not be alone in disliking the Honourable Woman. It is simply too contrived.

  • This article shows once again the closed mindedness of rabid zionists, especially American émigrés. “Don’t even listen to any other ideas.” As a Jew who has lived in Israel it sickens me. I get called a self-hating Jew every time I say one critical word about Israel, and here goes a rant abut a fiction that portrays Palestinians and Israelis as human beings dedicated and corruptible and complex. The fearful defensiveness of the fanatic seems always to come out when someone says that both the good guys and the bad guys are human and fallible. The first casualty of war is truth and truth has been dying in Israel and Palestine for too many years to ever be resurrected.

    • There is no “palestine”, as there is no such things as “palestinian” Arabs. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al-Husseini (Hitler’s man from the middle east) didn’t call his people “palestinians” – neither did Arafat, until after the Six Day War. Educate yourself, doc.
      Low info, virtue-signalling, leftist Kapos like you make me puke with your laughable need to sell your people out in order to “fit in”. Grow a set of balls and take a side for once, you simpering, gutless moral relativist.

  • Sorry Gil, but your biases really seethe on this one.
    Pretentious? This was an amazing cadre of actors and actresses and filmmaking crew.
    Boring? Slow Moving? The pace was ideal for a spy thriller. This is not an action movie. Go watch the Bourne series if you need action in your spy movies.
    “Singlehandedly bring peace”? Come-on, it’s clear that this is a central theme that the characters struggle with throughout the WHOLE series: what is one person’s role, ability, can anything change, what do we atone for, if anything…?

    Just because Gyllenhaal claims to have learned a lot doesn’t give you the right to bash her: You “wonder why she isn’t being interviewed daily on the world news”? It’s because as a private individual she claims to have learned something, she’s not purporting to be an expert, or representative of any agency. Your jab would have been understandable IF she WAS being interviewed every day. It’s clear here how angry you are about the whole thing, and are ready to leap no matter what is said.

    You haven’t even researched your article. I’ve done more research about it just as a layperson interested in the topic: it was co-funded by the the Sundance Channel, that’s why it’s on there, not that “the fact that Sundance was the only channel that wanted it says a lot.”

    Your “analysis” of plot points is also misinterpretation. When she is kidnapped, she is not famous yet, her brother is the face of the company. The amount of money you bring up was not the important point, it was the backdoor politics, the money trail, and the fact that her brother put her safety over policy. The show makes really important points about how money is not ever the real point at that scale: Schlomo brings up how a $75M contact is nothing compared to his billions, The spy’s are vying for tenure at Universities and higher positions, not using their influence to funnel money. It’s the how and why of it, not the amount that is important. You’re nitpicking.

    I guess you can have the opinion that it is “stupid, dull,” slow, but you’re going to have to work harder to prove that it is “pretentious, … atrocious”

  • You just don’t like anything that is not biased in favour of the Jewish State.

    Typically arrogant reference to spelling. It is the USA that spells many words differently – and incorrectly – from everyone else, not the UK.