Boardwalk Empire

In Atlantic City in the 1920s when Prohibition was introduced and alcohol became illegal, everybody partied.

Black balloons fell from the ceiling, the band struck up a tune, couples danced and the champagne flowed. At least they did at the swish party attended by county treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi).

Nucky was a real life character in Atlantic City who rose to power as one of the city’s leaders who became a racketeer running bootlegging, gambling and prostitution. HBO’s new drama series is a fictionalised version inspired by actual events in a book by writer Nelson Johnson. It’s a wonderful backdrop to themes of corruption, vice and larger-than-life characters.

This is a project dripping in gravitas. In addition to character actor Buscemi in a lead TV role, the screenplay is by Sopranos writer Terence Winter. It has none other than Martin Scorsese directing its first episode. Mark Wahlberg is also a producer.

Nucky is a man of contradictions. Outwardly he condemns alcohol to the Women’s Temperance League while secretly comandeering backroom deals of booze smuggled and sold at bloated prices, all thriving under the federal law of Prohibition. With wine, women and violence, he ran Atlantic City’s own underbelly, becoming rich through organised crime. Buscemi was born to play this role, a smiling assassin of sorts. No wonder he won a Golden Globe for his efforts.

The other key characters in the opening episode include Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) Nucky’s former protégé, who is tempted to work for the Feds, and Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) a wife who is beaten by her husband and turns to Nucky for help. In a city of liars, cheats and fornicators, she serves as the symbol of virtue. Pitt as the wide-eyed and ambitious Darmody is like a young Leonardo di Caprio in The Departed -no surprise given the director. Darmody will also meet an equally young Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

Helping to make this believable is the fact that there is almost no star-casting amongst the remaining principal and supporting players (although The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams and an unrecognisable Dabney Coleman have roles).

But the most striking aspects of Boardwalk Empire are the production values. The Art Direction, Costume and Cinematography are outstanding. There are lavish sets that transport you back to a romantic era. Attention to detail is exceptional. The effect is simply sumptuous.

Similarly, Scorsese’s use of period music hits the right tone. There’s nothing quite like hearing a 20’s ditty warbling on an old gramophone while someone is being bludgeoned to death.

Mad Men has clearly made period dramas fashionable again and it couldn’t have a better nod than one from Boardwalk Empire. Expect to hear a lot more about this one.

Boardwalk Empire premieres 8:30pm Sunday March 27th on Showtime.


  1. I’ve already watched the whole series (who needs Foxtel?!) and loved it. Like Mad Men or Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, it’s a show that demands and rewards close attention. You’ll only really appreciate it by parking your expectations and opening your mind. If you can manage that you’ll see that the characters are endlessly fascinating, it’s rich in subtext, and has some interesting and relevant things to say about America in the 20th century

  2. Takes a while to get going. Not ready to put it in the same basket as Breaking bad, sopranos, Deadwood etc.
    I refuse to get more crappy TV ie Foxtel. So there are other options as we know. Why respect this industry when they do not respect you?

  3. I love Breaking Bad, True Blood & Dexter and I’m hooked on this show. Kelly McDonald (No Country for Old Men) is brilliant. Fantastic special effects (see & search for Boardwalk Empire) gives an authentic feel of Atlantic City in the 20’s. Enjoy.

  4. Yes…considering how much foxtel charge for their (argusbly) outdated services and how easily this (and other shows) can be…er…viewed elsewhere for next to nothing, I think foxtel really need to lift their game somehow…some people want more than re-runs of ‘Allo ‘Allo from their paytv ffs!

  5. While it’s a great gain for Showcase and to a lesser extent SBS. Why does it take this long to get it to our screens. There are far cheaper and faster ways of obtaining quality television.

  6. Watched it, it doesn’t have the instant appeal of a Mad Men, Sopranos, Deadwood and wouldn’t class it with those shows (include theWire). But it does pick up pretty well towards the end, probably leading to a better s2.

    Michael Shannon and Michael Pitt are the stars IMO.

  7. Secret Squïrrel

    This looks really good but I’ll have to wait for (hopefully) SBS to pick it up in a year or two, or import it via the information superhighway.

    It’s great to see actors like Buscemi, Michael Emerson (Lost), and Edie Falco (The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie) be given meaty lead roles such as this.

  8. Don’t miss this !! Get it one way or another, it’s one of the best shows for ages. Free to air misses out yet again. Why are people turning to other means again ???

  9. Already watch season 1, there was no way I was going to wait until the end of March. One of the greatest HBO shows of our tilme, behind True Blood that is

  10. FYI there was an interesting 30 min doco on Showcase this morning, to be repeated later in the week that looks at the history of Atlantic City, ‘Atlantic City: The Original Sin’ its worth checking out if you’re interested in this series. It’s on again Friday in the very early hours, so you might want to set your PVR.

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