Boardwalk Empire; A television series created by Terence Winter,directed by Martin Scorsese.



A period piece set in Atlanta from the end of the 19th century until the end of prohibition in 1933 pretty much rolled back the extensive criminal associations which grew out of the period and who are the subject of this series. Apart from bootlegging there is also the introduction of heroin when Lucky Luciano was a primary entrepreneur and cocaine which became a perennial also in this scenario.


Starring Steve Buscemi, who played 'Little Tony' in The Sopranos, as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the leading character is based on the historical figure Enoch Johnson. The man who ran Atlantic City through the twenties and thirties is a fair description. By the end of the series we have a character who came from humble beginnings and “got ahead”. The series has a resonance with 'The Sopranos' largely because there are several players from the series, both coming from Home Box Office who released 'Boardwalk Empire' on September 1st 2009. Its five episodes concluded on October 26th 2014 and while the series ran it was greeted with critical acclaim from The Screen Actors Guild, Primetime Emmy Awards and Golden Globe to name a few.


A lavish production which spared little in recreating the feel of the era from sets and costumes to music and special effects there is an appealing attention to detail. Apart from the constant attention to dealing with corrupt police, politicians and city officials there are some who are not so compromised and we are left well aware of how easy it was to became entangled in the dynamics of a process way beyond one's control. The viewer gets the feeling that to be sincerely involved in the enforcement of the laws demanded a somewhat deluded view of things so a realistic approach might be to commit murder and mayhem for the pleasure of it. Like 'The Sopranos' again we have a world of men whose loyalties extend to family if anywhere at all and the ability to mobilise violence both personally and with a mob are rudimentary adjuncts to a life devoted to “getting ahead”.


The exceptions are somewhat conspicuous. Richard Harrow, played by Jack Huston, manages to exercise his own discrimination and readily refuses to commit occasional murders and inspires a degree of sympathy for his sad predicament. A veteran of WW1 he was left with terrible scarring and disfigurement which makes him something of an outcast. He manges to find a degree of redemption that is inspiring. As a sniper during the war and coming from a farm he had only ever been trained for one thing; killing men where he showed true proficiency. Befriended by Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) who is Nucky's protege who had been sent to an Ivy League college but ran off to the war. When Harrow met Jimmy at a war veterans' review appointment he was treated as a hero and was given work, shelter and friendship. At one point he was the bodyguard for Nucky's consort Margaret and her two children. He loses his only friend Jimmy who is murdered leaving his son an orphan in the care of a dysfunctional grandmother who runs a brothel.


Historically, the issue of race during this period is addressed through Nucky's connection with Edward “Chalky” White (Michael Kenneth Williams), a prominent figure in the African-American community in Atlantic City during a period of extreme persecution to this ethnic group. Nucky is sensible enough to understand the value of cultivating good relations with the African-Americans and has cause to be thankful for it more than once. Chalky eventually runs foul of Dr. Valentine Narcissus (Jeffrey White) a character inspired by Casper Holstein a figure prominent in the numbers rackets in Harlem and associated with the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He also sold heroin supplied by Lucky Luciano to Harlem and elsewhere including Atlantic City where one of Chalky's associates handled the distribution. He founded a Baptist Church in Libya and bought the mortgage for the hall where the Improvement Association had its meetings and sent money to relief work when his native Virgin Islands were suffering cyclone damage, he also wrote regular contributions to 'Crisis' the newspaper which spoke for the National Association for the Advancement for Coloured People.


The Irish Republican movement gets in a look in when an operative who is based in the U.S.A. for the purpose of 'tying up loose ends' on the run from the troubles back home he commits the occasional murder it seems but most of his attention goes to his work with Nucky. Nucky doesn't miss out on this fortuitous connection when he learns of several thousand Thompson sub machine guns that are stored at the Atlantic City National Guard he promptly arranges a trip to Ireland taking Margaret his consort on a visit back home. He negotiates a deal where the guns are swapped for Irish Whisky and business goes on but love doesn't for Margaret who has fallen in love with this charismatic young man and is bearing his child when he comes home in a box from New York when he went to finish off Lucky Luciano.


The plot doesn't fail to negotiate endless twists and turns as the many and varied players negotiate their ups and downs and concludes predictably enough given the genre although here we depart from historical reality. Instead of following the dictates of plot resolution as does Nucky Thompson the character, Nucky Johnson the historical figure lived on to spend ten years in prison on tax fraud charges and dying of natural causes at 85, a nondescript bloated ex-bureaucrat. The year was 1968. Both Thompson and Johnson are known for their charity work and readiness to help those in need in a period when a little went a long way. An era shaped by war, social unrest, hardship and outrage produced plenty of intrigue and provides the backdrop for this enjoyable series

Martin Scorsese
Steve Buscemi
Michael Pitt
Kelly Macdonald
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