Starting this evening, and being simulcast on Lifetime and The History Channel, running for 2 evenings is a retelling of the infamous story of Bonnie & Clyde. Most film buffs know the 1967 version with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the titular roles under Arthur Penn’s direction. This time out, we get a lush, and sprawling 4 hour tale (3 if you fast forward through the ads), directed by Bruce Beresford and scripted by Joe Batteer and John Rice. Taking over from Beatty and Dunaway is Emile Hirsch and Holliday Grainger.
I quite like the casting choices, as even when I saw the original I couldn’t believe the leads were in their early 20s (even if they were). Hirsch and Grainger are likeable in their roles, bringing a charm to them that allows you to empathize with them, despite the crimes they begin to get under their belt.
We see Clyde Barrow’s upbringing in a small family, book-ended by his older brother Buck (Lane Garrison) and his kid sister Nell (Sinclair DuMont). Clyde loves his mama (Dale Dickey) and would do almost anything for her. When he falls ill to an unknown fever in his childhood, he comes back with a hint of second sight, which allows, of course, for Clyde to know some of the things that are going to happen to him, even if he can’t change them.
Highest among these things is, of course, meeting Bonnie Parker, who is working in a greasy spoon in a small town, left their by her husband, living with her mother (Holly Hunter) and dreaming big dreams. Dreams of celebrity and fame.
And along comes Clyde…
At its heart this mini-series, through its retelling of the historical tale, is about the glorification and pursuit of celebrity. Denied a forum for her perceived talent by the movie studios in Hollywood, Bonnie believes that pairing up with Clyde, and pushing him to commit more dangerous crimes will help garner the fame she thinks she so richly deserves.
And at first it works – robbing banks, and having their story told by a female reporter PJ Lane (Elizabeth Reaser), the two become folk heroes, rising up against society, and doing things their way. Something PJ has to deal with is her part in the crimes, without the fame and headlines she gave them, would they have escalated their actions?
The headlines get bigger and bigger, as their actions grow more and more expansive, and in the end violent.
Things begin to turn, as illustrated at the end of the first night’s episode, when they are forcibly moved up the crime ladder when something unexpected, bloody and violent happens.
Through it all, Clyde has premonitions about where they are going, how to avoid the occasional police trap, and falling for Bonnie, who in turn, seems more interested in gaining more and more fame for herself, and by extension Clyde.
Watching a choice Bonnie makes in the second episode, a choice that costs the couple, and their cohorts dear, truly illustrates that she seems a little more interested in the headlines she can get as opposed to those around her.
But, fame is a fickle mistress, and of course, those who love you one moment, can turn on you in an instant, and want nothing more than to take you down.
To quote Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
There’s a realization for Clyde halfway through episode 2, which leads directly to the film bloody climax, and suggests that he knew things had to be stopped, but also knew that it would give Bonnie the fame she wanted.
Hot on their trail, after a chance meeting early on, is retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (William Hurt), who unlike the local police can see a more national pattern to the duo’s movements, and in instrumental in bringing about the film’s conclusion.
For a two-night event, both episodes move along quickly, and everything looks fantastic. The period detail, the clothes, the cars, the locations and sets wrap you up in the reality the series wants to create, it seems brighter in palette than say Boardwalk Empire, it doesn’t feel quite as gritty, despite the bloody finale, but that doesn’t detract from it in any degree.
Both the leads turn in strong performances, Hirsch conveys the charm you expected Barrow must have had, and Grainger brings Parker’s need for glory alive resoundingly well.
It’s a well crafted, entertaining take on one of history’s most infamous duos, brought to life incredibly well by Beresford, his cast, and his crew, that wasn’t shy to avoid the blood, sex and violence, that seemed to drench these two.
Have a look at Episode One tonight at 9 on Lifetime or History, and catch Episode 2 Monday night, then let me know what you think!