Until last week, I had never given a five-star rating to any TV or radio programme. But Channel 4’s Homeland was a thriller of such quality, such impressive characterisation and complexity that I felt it merited the accolade.
A week on, I have a nagging feeling that I might have made a terrible mistake. Having watched the first two episodes of Prisoners of War — the Israeli forerunner of Homeland — I think it could well turn out to be the superior of the two productions, and I don’t have any stars left in the bank.
Although addressing the same subject — prisoners of war returning to their homes, traumatised and perhaps brainwashed by their captors — they are by no means identical. Gideon Raff wrote and produced the Israeli series and was executive producer of the US show, but the two programmes are less clones, more twins separated at birth — you can see the family resemblance but their look and personality are significantly different.
Homeland was a slick, high-octane thriller from the outset. Prisoners of War is slower, deeper, and even darker. It dwells more on the psychological anguish of the two returning prisoners, Uri (Ishai Golan) and Nimrod (Yoram Toledano), and the torture they endured during 17 years of captivity in Syria. It also focuses on the suffering of those left behind. In his absence, Nimrod’s two children have grown up into teenagers from hell. In the car returning from the airport, his daughter Dana, casually asked: “So, did they rape you over there?”
Meanwhile, Uri’s former fiancée Nurit (Mili Avital) has been derided for marrying the PoW’s brother while Uri was in captivity — a fact that unbeknown to her, Uri discovered in nightmarish fashion from an Israeli newspaper left by his captors for him to read.
The two abductees returned to tearful homecomings alongside the body of their dead colleague, Amiel (whose sister, Yael, has hallucinations about him in slightly annoying fashion), and the serious interrogations began.
Here, a little knowledge from Homeland can be tantalising. Have the two Israelis responded to their ordeal the way the Brodie character did? Does the Israeli interrogator go mad like Carrie did? Is the third “dead” soldier actually still alive? The only certain thing is that I won’t be going out on a Thursday night for the next few weeks.