Boardwalk Empire, Season 1

Boardwalk Empire, Season 1

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Warner Home Video/HBO

Release date: January 9th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 670 minutes

Created by: Terence Winter

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Shannon, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Stuhlbarg, Vincent Piazza, Paz de la Huerta, Shea Whigham, Stephen Graham

In the years between 1920 and 1933, the United States of America witnessed one of its most baffling eras; the prohibition of alcohol. Mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the Volstead Act, the ban defined which intoxicating liquors were illegal but also outlined those which were not, for example, alcohol for medical and religious purposes were excluded from prohibition.

One of the immediate effects of Prohibition was a lucrative niche in the black market. As usually happens when governments enforce bans, there’s always someone ready to make a profit.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season

Created by Terence Winter and with Martin Scorsese as one of the show’s producers, Boardwalk Empire is set during this tumultuous period, in the years leading up to the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression.

Based on the book by Nelson Johnson, it follows Atlantic County Treasurer Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi) as he sets up a bootlegging business, hoping to get richer. With the help of his brother, Eli (Shea Whigham), who’s also the sheriff of Atlantic County and Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a former Ivy League student who’s just returned from the war and who Nucky’s been looking out for since he was a small boy, their aim is to corner the market but they’re not the only ones with a plan.

They have to contend with some vicious rivals including Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), a New York gangster, and his bunch of cronies. As the murky world of politics cross over with bootlegging, gangsters and brothels Nucky is also kept busy with having to sweeten up politicians like Edward L. Bader (Kevin O’Rourke), an Atlantic City mayoral candidate who eventually becomes Mayor.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season

Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), a Federal Prohibition agent and zealous Protestant who upholds his own version of the law, is also thrown into the mix when he starts investigating Nucky and Jimmy.

As if that wasn’t enough, Nucky gets involved with Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald), an Irish woman who’s heavily pregnant and has two children plus an abusive husband. Jimmy as well has his own problems, after forming an unlikely friendship with a young Al Capone (Stephen Graham), he leaves Nucky’s side to venture into Chicago’s world of organised crime with Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci).

Boardwalk Empire assembles an unruly bunch of characters that are all despicable in their own way but with quality writing, impressive performances by the cast and extremely high production values the show makes for compelling viewing. It offers a look back to a time that doesn’t seem so different from today. People will still do anything for a buck and organised crime and politics still work hand in hand. Not that much has changed.

While the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, Boardwalk Empire pulls our focus to real life characters such as Enoch L. Johnson, Al Capone, Edward L. Bader, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein and Johnny Torrio to show how they managed to stay one step ahead of the game, at least for a time. Other issues the show draws on are racism with politicians eager to get the black vote and sexism as women struggled to get their voices heard and for the right to vote.

With Boardwalk Empire entering its third season later in 2012, Season 1 gets off to a great start, demonstrating that television can still turn up modern treasures if it digs deep enough.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season

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