New Amazon Prime series ‘The Widow’ follows an English person (a white English person, for enhanced cultural contrast) into a foreign land on the trail of a spouse and a multistory maze of secrets and lies and things turning out to be Not What They Seemed.
It gets a lot of energy from its setting, as if an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’ had been strained through Alfred Hitchcock or Graham Greene and stretched into a mystery miniseries. And it’s highly watchable —— if occasionally confusing, old-fashioned — well acted, energetically directed without being mannered, cinematic without being fussy. It has an emotional intensity unusual for the genre; tragic events have lingering effects on the characters, not to be swept aside with jokes or romance.
At eight episodes, the show has space to develop multiple storylines, which run together in twists and twirls toward a conclusion. And it takes care to tie up loose ends, with the somewhat inelegant effect of seeming about to end a few times before they actually do. It’s perhaps too scrupulous in this regard — not every question needs an answer — but in terms of overall customer satisfaction, it is not a bad plan.
Kate Beckinsale, making a welcome return to television (after two decades of being merely a movie star), plays Georgia Wells, a woman who believes her husband had died in an African air crash until, three years later, she thinks she sees him in news footage of a riot in Kinshasa. Despite being warned against it, she heads to the Democratic Republic of Congo to track him down. (When she gets there, people will tell her to go home; she never listens.) Other threads — one involving child soldiers, another beginning when two blind people meet at a clinic in Rotterdam — will head to meet hers.
Unlike Simm’s Average Joe in ‘Unusual Circumstances’ — think Cary Grant in ‘North by Northwest’, but shorter and less freshly pressed — Beckinsale’s Georgia is a former army captain, with training that allows her to plausibly carry on like an action hero. (Beckinsale has played them before, and handles it well.) It’s pleasurable too to see Charles Dance as an old friend and former intelligence officer accompanying her — the world can use a few septuagenarian swashbucklers.
It’s a compelling puzzle, a potato-chip show — as soon as you finish one episode, you reach for another. (Of course, Amazon does that work for you.) If ‘The Widow’ has a problem, it’s that it is largely a story of white Westerners (including Alex Kingston as a colleague of Georgia’s husband) working out their destinies in a nonwhite, non-Western world. If it is too busy and multifarious to be classed as a “white saviour” movie — see the recent controversy over the Oscar-winning ‘The Green Book’ — it certainly has elements of one. You will or will not find it distracting.
Don’t miss it
‘The Widow’ is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.