[This is a review for the Bonnie and Clyde miniseries. It contains SPOILERS.]
A&E struck gold last year – critically speaking – with its compelling miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys. The network’s latest venture into America’s past takes us on a journey with Bonnie and Clyde, but is it an adventure worth taking? The answer is most assuredly yes – only you may want to leave your history book/Wikipedia page closed for this one.
History can be a double-edged sword. From a broader view, the stories can be thrilling and engaging, while the small details can sometimes dull the viewing experience. There’s always the question of how much “truth” and how much “art” one puts into a historical retelling.
However, what if the story already defies explanation? Clyde Barrow (Emile Hirsch) asks that very question in part 1 of A&E’s ambitious television event. Can Bonnie and Clyde’s life be summed up by mere historical facts?
The story of America’s famous bank-robbing couple did in fact happen during the late part of the prohibition era in the early 1930s. Writers Joe Batteer and John Rice do an incredible job at setting the mood of this “grit and piss” era. Clyde seemingly had the tougher upbringing, known for stealing chickens with his older brother (Buck) at an early age. As a young man, Clyde’s misbegotten ways flourish. The young man had found his path to the American dream. Clyde says that if he and Bonnie had grown up in a time of “milk and honey,” maybe life could’ve been different.
Bonnie’s life appears ordinary at first glance. A young aspiring actress dreaming of bigger and better things is nothing new, but to Clyde, she was his destiny. Oh yes, there’s Clyde’s “second-sight.” According to his mother (Emma), their family has a kind of prophetical gift. For the sake of brevity, let’s just call it his “Spidey-sense.”
This unique ability allows Clyde to see visions of the future, as well as sense when something is about to go wrong. Remember, the historical setting is only a backdrop for a much more fantastical tale of two lovers. As the decades pass, the tale of Bonnie and Clyde has become something of a legend, so who’s to say exactly how it happened?
Holliday Grainger (Bonnie) has been a joy to watch ever since she first appeared on Showtime’s recently canceled series, The Borgias. The bewitching, freckled-faced, English-born beauty steals every scene with little effort. Batteer and Rice use Bonnie not only as a capable accomplice, but as a heroine for women’s rights.
In one of the better moments from part 1, Bonnie corners a young female journalist (P.J. Lane), asking her why her name wasn’t mentioned in the article. While Bonnie might be going at it the wrong way, she insists that her role in robbing banks is just as important as her male counterpart. She also knows how to handle a shotgun. Even though these women are on different paths, each can relate to the other’s desire to be respected for their talents.
If the focus of Bonnie and Clyde is not on historical purity, then why does this series exist? Its reason for being is both an achievement and an encumbrance. The show is simply trying to do too much, but when it succeeds, it’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen.
The obvious reasons for success reside within its stellar casting. William Hurt (Lost in Space) as Bonnie and Clyde’s nemesis, Frank Hamer, was a brilliant choice. Academy Award winner Holly Hunter (The Piano) is always a welcomed addition to any role she’s in. A surprising appearance by Modern Family star Sarah Hyland proves she can do more than make millions of people laugh every week. Perhaps a move to more dramatic roles is in her future?
As previously stated, the series is not without its flaws. Clyde’s prison rape, while Bonnie seductively reads poetry, attempts to give the viewer a sense of profound drama, but it falls short. Films such as American History X and The Shawshank Redemption have used scenes like this to much greater effect.
Even with its shortcomings, Bonnie and Clyde gives us a glimpse at what some are willing to do in pursuit of the American dream. Bonnie’s obsession with her popularity in newspapers is an early look at the importance and influence of pop culture in our society.
What may make some people uncomfortable with Batteer and Rice’s historical interpretation is how closely these thieves and murderers resemble us. While not everyone has the same aspirations as Bonnie and Clyde, this dynamic miniseries showcases the dark journey one can take in the pursuit of happiness.
Did you enjoy the miniseries? Let us know in the comments.
If you missed Bonnie and Clyde, you can check it out on A&E’s website.