As Kate Beckinsale’s first television starring role, The Widow takes steps to play to her strengths as a performer, offering her a chance to play both a grief-stricken wife and a gun-toting action hero, but without all the supernatural gobbledygook of the Underworld franchise. The result is the kind of opportunity Beckinsale should see more of — either in films or future television projects — but the story of Georgia Wells’s search for the husband she had believed to be dead for the past three years is ultimately stymied by its unbearably slow pace and a collection of unnecessary subplots that only work to tie the series together long after anyone watching might still care.
The Widow follows a similar arc as that of another recent Amazon Prime series from the UK, White Dragon. That story followed a grieving husband as he traveled to Hong Kong to discover his now-deceased wife had a secret double life, one complete with another husband and daughter, and that she was tied up in an international scandal that resulted in her untimely death. There are hints of that basic plot structure here, too, as Beckinsale’s Georgia Wells has retreated to an isolated existence in Wales. A trip to the hospital after suffering a nasty fall offers Georgia the conspicuously coincidental chance to glimpse what she believes may be her husband in some news footage during a riot in Kinshasa, where she notices his beard and the orange cap he wore before leaving for Africa as part of a group of aid workers led by Alex Kingston’s Judith Gray.
It’s an intriguing, albeit familiar, premise that aims to put Beckinsale in the driver’s seat as the series shifts from spousal mystery to action-thriller. Beckinsale is, unsurprisingly, adept at playing both sides of the story, but The Widow takes so long to get to the point and denies its lead actor the chance to take charge for so many episodes that the intended payoff feels like too little too late. Part of the problem is the series’ insistence of turning a fairly compact personal struggle into a sprawling narrative that includes a subplot featuring a visually impaired Icelandic man named Ariel Helgason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Trapped) and a woman named Beatrix (Louise Brealey, Sherlock). The two engage in a seemingly sweet romance, while participating in a medical trip that may restore their sight. It’s such an odd, go-nowhere storyline that whenever the series shifts to Ariel and Beatrix it’s liable to give the viewer whiplash. To make matters worse, the story moves at an even slower pace than Georgia’s, holding off the revelation of how Ariel is connected to her and her missing husband until the series’ end.
There is also a slightly more engaging subplot that involves a pair of children conscripted to fight in a militia force deep in the Congo. The main thrust of the plot revolves around a young girl named Adidja (Shalom Nyandiko). This, too, feels like an unnecessary addition to the story The Widow is trying to tell, but mainly because there’s actually a compelling tale here, one that inevitably gets short shrift on account of the series’ necessary focus on Georgia’s narrative and the unnecessary time spent with Ariel and Beatrix.
It’s at this point that The Widow earns a comparison to White Dragon. Both series seem intent on justifying their relatively small episode counts (just eight a piece) by expanding the story to include too many details, additional characters, and languid moments that ultimately fail to justify their inclusion. At their heart, both The Widow and White Dragon are about spouses grappling with grief by venturing into the unknown as a way to move on with their lives and perhaps regain a bit of the person they were before suffering unimaginable loss. That’s a fairly compact and concise character study that necessitates maybe four hours of television, and even that’s being ambitious. But, particularly in the case of The Widow, the series is almost undone by its desire to make the story bigger than it needs to be. At its heart, The Widow asks some interesting questions about the need for one person to know the truth and whether or not anyone will listen when the truth is discovered. The series doubles down on that line of questioning by having its main character walk an increasingly complicated moral line, one that sees her crossing far into ambiguous territory without a definite way out.
The Widow proves that Beckinsale can carry a television series, but she shouldn’t be asked to shoulder the weight of one that takes much too long to get to the point, much less one that squanders its lead actress with a series of go-nowhere subplots that only weigh the entire enterprise down. Despite adequate help from the likes of Kingston and the always great Charles Dance, the series ultimate squanders a potentially compelling narrative and a great cast by trying to tell too many slow-burn mysteries at once.
The Widow streams on Amazon Prime Video starting Friday, March 1, 2019.