Blu Ray Review – Boardwalk Empire Season 1

One of the biggest TV events in recent years, Boardwalk Empire arrived amidst fanfares and high expectations. The show was produced by legendary director Martin Scorsese, who also directed the pilot episode. It was being shown on HBO, that powerhouse of American television responsible for shows like The Wire and Game of Thrones. And the setting – a coastal city in prohibition era America, featuring famous faces such as Al Capone – was packed with dramatic potential. Expensive, classy and backed by big names, people were obviously excited for this, and critical reaction tended towards adulation.

And for much of it, it’s fully deserved. One of the most immediately impressive aspects of Boardwalk is the look of it. Positively oozing with period detail, with epic sets recreating the East Coast as seen in the ’30s, it is, quite simply, one of the best looking programmes ever on television. From the opening credits, with high contrast footage of a raging sea carrying an alcoholic payload, through every frame of every episode, this looks and feels real. It’s an expansive, immersive show that really defies any expectations you might have about what TV should look like. That, perhaps, is reason enough to buy it on blu-ray.

Not only that, but there is a wealth of acting talent on display, too. So many, in fact, that for the sake of a readable review only two need be mentioned. Steve Buscemi in the lead role of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson is a formidable screen presence. A complex, powerful and quietly terrifying figure in Atlantic City, Nucky is a consistently engaging character, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Buscemi in the role. With his unique face, disarming charisma and wonderful unpredictability, he’s the brilliant, unforgettable core of the cast. Michael Shannon as his antagonist, the rigorously upright Fed hoping to bring down the entire smuggling ring, is electric, a fantastic, compelling character almost as iconic as the man he hopes to destroy. Having turned out one of the best performances of the year in Take Shelter, Shannon is a man to watch, as one suspects he is only going to get better.

However, for all the quality clearly put in to Boardwalk, at times it is so slow burn that the pace drags almost to a halt, and even with a myriad number of plot strands running at once, it loses its momentum just a little too much. The first, Scorsese directed, episode is one of the best, but it never quite tops that auspicious opening. The middle section has a few episodes where very little seems to happen at all, a problem exacerbated by the fact that sometimes the dealings are so murky it’s difficult to know exactly what is going on.

The biggest problem with Boardwalk Empire, however, is that the emotional core of the show is undermined by a pervasive moral greyness that means no one is particularly good. Even the apparent objectors to the amorality of the town either give in to it or are equally perverse. The result is that there is very little to root for or invest yourself into the story, which, over twelve long episodes, is a difficult ask. This won’t be a problem for every viewer, and it is undeniably a quality piece of television, sure to gain a loyal and engaged fanbase. But, for this writer at least, all the sheen and class on the surface is not quite enough to hide the ugliness beneath.

About The Author


Nat (or Nathanael as he calls himself when he wants to sound a bit classier) is a student based in Edinburgh who watches far too many animated films for a guy his age. He even has a blog. dedicated to the subject. When he's not doing that, he's the film editor of The Journal, Edinburgh and a committed member of King's Church Edinburgh. He likes Terrence Malick far, far too much.

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