DVD: Boardwalk Empire (18)


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The Independent Culture

There's been a wee bit of low-level griping about this immaculate HBO production – created by Terence Winter (writer on The Sopranos) and produced by Martin Scorsese – but this savage, funny and saucy look at the follies of Twenties Prohibition-era America is thoroughly intoxicating.

Steve Buscemi, an actor who always garners sympathy, however bad his character, plays Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the sensationally corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City ("We all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with," he maintains), who regulates the new bootleg liquor trade. He is assisted by his ambitious protégé, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt, excellent), whose experiences in the First World War have inured him to brutality, and who is eager to control the flow of alcohol by all means necessary. He recruits a certain Al Capone (Stephen Graham, always good value), with Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) sniffing around, too. Meanwhile, Michael Shannon's glum, God-fearing FBI agent, Nelson Van Alden, sticks doggedly to their tails.

As in The Sopranos, characters dissemble, constantly surprise and have a huge capacity for violence. Vitally, however, Boardwalk also has heart. Nucky, still tormented by the loss of his wife, is enraptured by pretty Irish widow Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), who may just be the ruin of him. The acting, dialogue, pacing, drama and staging are all of the highest order.