People waiting nervously in a German hotel room. A piece of paper signed. Footsteps down the corridor.
“What now?” a woman asks.
“We wait,” the old man replies.
Pacing. Tension. Someone returns with another piece of paper and leaves. The old man dials a telephone.
“The deal is done,” he says. “They’re coming home.”
And with that the set-up for this acclaimed Israeli series, known as Hatufim, is underway, and it isn’t hard to see why America borrowed the idea for Homeland.
In Prisoners of War the prisoners in question (yes there are two) have been held captive in Lebanon for 17 years, making this markedly different from Brody’s 8 years as a captive in Afghanistan.
The first episode deals entirely with the homecoming, largely from the point of view of three families. In one family the wife of one prisoner is completely taken aback by the news of the release. In the 17 interceding years she has taken up with her husband’s brother, having given up all hope of his eventual return.
In another family the teenage children are cynical, even rebellious, with a son who has never met his father before. Family joy is contrasted by a veritable stranger about to enter their domain.
The third family member is in for the biggest shock of all. The prisoners have been released, but not all of them survived their incarceration. While a country celebrates an airport homecoming, she will have to endure the homecoming of her husband’s corpse.
The prisoners themselves, Nimrod Klein (Yoram Toledano) and Uri Zach (Ishai Golan), now bitterly drawn shadows of men, are kept from our eyes until the moment their families see them. Dramatically this works extremely well because we have the same curiosity as the characters themselves. But there are hints of secrets between the two survivors, and a flashback that suggests much more has taken place in captivity (which is pretty obvious to anyone who has watched Homeland) and it’s a lot more sinister than any Stockholm Sydnrome….
All of these elements were retained for Homeland, but streamlined so that the role of the ‘loveless’ wife, played in the US by Morena Baccarin, was also the mother of disconnected teens. Focussing on Brody, rather than the two survivors of Prisoners of War, presumably gave the US series a star-driven plot.
In Prisoners of War‘s pilot there is also no sign of any Carrie (Claire Danes) although a psychologist observing the men’s behaviour does echo the senior counsel of Mandy Patinkin’s character.
But enough of the comparisons. This series has impact on its own merits. The writing by Gideon Raff is taut, the performances are authentic, the filming never cuts corners, the emotion transgresses any language barriers.
On the back of Real Humans, it’s also great to see SBS returning more foreign language content to SBS ONE instead of shuffling them off to SBS TWO.
When you have a production as strong as this one, and an audience that is already familiar with its background, you’d be mad to do otherwise.
Prisoners of War airs 8:30pm Saturday January 19 SBS ONE.