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The sagest piece of advice I can give regarding Amazon’s The Widow is this: Watch Steve McQueen’s Widows instead. Now that I got that out of my system, let’s move on.
DIRECTOR: Samuel Donovan, Olly Blackburn
STREAMING: Amazon Prime
After Georgia sees her husband on TV, she travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo to find the truth about the plane crash that allegedly killed him three years ago.
The Widow is a show consumed by loss. Georgia has lost a husband, Emmanuel has lost a wife, and Ariel has lost his sight and identity. The characters in The Widow move through life at a different speed than everyone else. Some of them are reclusive. Some put themselves out there a little bit at a time. They’re united thematically by their grief, and united literally by the plane crash that brought about their losses. Grief should have been the most interesting thing about The Widow, but instead, the show only uses it to set up its many plot twists. The series routinely undersells its best elements by taking a bone-dry mystery approach. As such, The Widow is an impersonal thriller that struggles to make an impact.
Kate Beckinsale, perennially in search of better material, plays Georgia. Viewers first meet Georgia by watching her fall while walking. This stumble also serves as the story’s inciting incident. As she gets the cut on her leg stitched up, Georgia catches a breaking news update. In the midst of the people scrambling on the TV screen, Georgia spots a man in an orange hat. Normally an orange hat is a matter best left to the fashion police. But this hat belongs to Georgia’s husband, Will. No biggie—except Will died in a plane crash three years prior.
So off Georgia goes, from her countryside home to the Democratic Republic of Congo to find answers and, hopefully, her husband. The series jumps back and forth in time to reveal backstory and help unravel the mysteries. Georgia meets Emmanuel (Jacky Ido), whose wife carried the bomb that brought the plane down. The other main players, Martin Benson (Charles Dance, who plays Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones), Judith (Alex Kingston), and Ariel (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), are all intertwined in the plane mystery as well. The characters overlap in the past and present in a Lost-esque fashion.
The problem is, the series’ central question—what happened to Will?—is never engaging. The Widow never gives us a reason to care about Georgia’s search for Will (Matthew Le Nevez), or if Will even survived the plane crash. Beckinsale, for her part, gives a fine performance, but she’s saddled with a bland script and isn’t able to elevate the show.
Since The Widow relies so heavily on reveals for its best moments, I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum. Suffice it to say, Will and Georgia are a generically constructed couple, and their relationship is marked by a shared loss. Most of their story is told in flashbacks, which turns out to be a detriment. When we see Georgia sad in the present, then learn why she’s sad, the response is, “Oh, that makes sense.” The show uses this style of storytelling for every other character as well. The story relies too heavily on exposition, rather than teaching us about characters in the moment. In one scene, armed guerrillas stop Georgia and the group with which she is traveling. When one of the guerrillas tries to kidnap Georgia, we learn something important about her. It’s a surprising and rewarding moment, the likes of which don’t happen nearly enough in The Widow.
Instead, the time-hopping narrative quickly begins to feel like a gimmick, and the show can’t recover. Brothers and series writers Harry and Jack Williams have employed this tactic more successfully in their past work, such as The Missing. The Widow has a hard time establishing momentum over its eight episodes, and the constant flashbacks give it a choppy flow. Any tension or drama plateaus early, and the lack of propulsion leaves the show feeling inert. Most of The Widow’s problems go back to the characters. The most interesting ones, Ariel and Emmanuel, don’t get enough screen time. Same goes for Adidja (Shalom Nyandiko), a young girl kidnapped from her village and turned into a soldier.
The Widow has all the ingredients of a good show, but it can’t bring them together in a meaningful way. If you want twisty thrillers that revolve around assumed dead people returning, you’re better off checking out the books, movies, and TV shows associated with Harlan Coben. With just eight episodes, The Widow isn’t a huge investment, but you can still do better.
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Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.