Doctor Foster and The Honorable Woman

Doctor Foster I had heard a great deal about Dr Foster being one of the best British TV shows of 2015. Now, usually when you hear so much about a British show it’s because it’s gritty and deep and plunges you into the depths of despair — because this is what good British TV is all about. So I was surprised to watch this and find it a little, well — soapy.

Here’s the premise. Dr Gemma Foster is a successful GP with a handsome, property developer husband and a bright, charming son. Life is good…life is happy. We assume all this based on the first few opening scenes. A mere five minutes later, Gemma notices a long, blonde hair on the scarf that her husband just leant her as she was walking out the door. And this is where things start to fall apart. A seemingly happy marriage begins to crumble under the weight of lies, deceit and betrayal. But whose?

Are Gemma’s suspicions baseless and will they slowly poison her marriage as she begins to look twice at all the women in her husband’s life with long blonde hair? Or are they based in fact? Doubt builds and recedes and then builds again. But the seed has been planted and Gemma’s actions move, at warped speed I might add, to following her husband and cell phone snooping. But then there are the slightly trickier issues of blackmail, fraud and the breaking of patient confidentiality…on more than one occasion. How unhinged is this woman that she is so willing to throw ethical standards out the window in pursuit of the truth? Can we trust her judgement?

The script definitely pushes the boundaries of plausibility and, quite frankly, for me at any rate, begins to teeter on the edge of silliness.  There are more than a few bits that leave you scratching your head in puzzlement.

But, honestly, that is what makes this show so eminently watchable. It is just damn good, juicy entertainment that keeps you coming back for more. The acting is brilliant, which ultimately is what prevents it from morphing into trashy melodrama, with Suranne Jones (who plays Gemma) holding onto the reigns just tightly enough to prevent the show from tipping over the edge into the abyss. The final episode has a wildly fabulous dinner scene which serves up plates of hot, spicy revenge to accompany the wine. Deliciously wicked and oh so fun.

So, grab some tea and settle in for an afternoon of pure entertainment. And you really should set aside the hours ’cause you will not be able to stop yourself from watching. But…when you’re done, check out the show below. It’s an equal in the nail biting department and as a political thriller is much more cerebral.

The Honorable Woman In the chilling opening scene of this show we see a young Nessa and Ephra Stein sitting at a table in a restaurant with their father, when he is stabbed in the neck by the waiter who brought the bread basket. All the while Nessa’s adult voice can be heard in a slow, melodic voice-over asking “Who do you trust? How do you know? By how they appear? Or what they say? What they do? How?” She goes on to say “We all have secrets. We all tell lies. Just to keep them from each other and from ourselves.” It’s what this show is all about.

Maggie Gyllenhall brilliantly portrays Ness Stein (with an absolutely flawless English accent I might add), a British Israeli who has inherited her father’s business which dealt weapons to Israel. But Nessa and her brother have chosen to do things differently. They have turned the business into a communications company with the goal of bringing fibre-optic cable and the internet to the West Bank. They are, literally and figuratively, trying to build lines of communication between Israel and Palestine. Her intention is to promote economic growth and eradicate the poverty in which terrorism thrives. But honourable intentions are oh so difficult to keep when everyone involved has their own agenda. It’s a political game of cat and mouse. Who is friend, who is foe? As Nessa states at one point to a family friend and businessman “It’s the Middle East, Shlomo, enemies are what you make.”

When a Palestinian man, whom Nessa has awarded a contract, dies, it sets off a chain of events that involves several governments and involves all manner of betrayals and deceptions. It unfolds via flashbacks and becomes a delicate psychological drama that is part political thriller and part family drama set against the fragility of the Middle East which just serves to emphasise the fragility of trust and life itself.

Despite all this there is no demonizing of either side, no pigeonholing of good and evil — there is good, bad and murky underhandedness on both sides of the equation. What it all adds up to is brilliant drama: taut, intense, superbly acted, hauntingly beautiful and devastatingly sad.

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