The American TV series Homeland was a big hit in the UK. I had recorded it in advance, but after watching episode 1 was sure I did not want to watch more, and deleted the rest. Later, the Israeli series Prisoner of War (Hatufim, literally “The Abducted Ones”), was shown, written by the same author (Gideon Raff) and by all accounts much better – and with subtitles! I therefore set up the series to record and towards the end of its run, began to watch it. After three episodes, I’m stopping. Why?
On the basis of what I’ve seen, I find Prisoners of War vastly superior to Homeland, benefiting enormously from its absence of a mad neurotic voyeur who bugs the returning prisoner’s home and obsessively observes him having sex with his wife. Apart from that big plus, the whole thing is so much more real. You can believe in the two returning prisoners, their wives, their respective personal dilemmas, and the situation of the third woman, the sister of the man who did not return.
After watching an episode all about the homecoming, a second episode about the reunion with the families, and a third about the debriefing of the two men in a secure facility, I lost interest. The pace is glacial, and I’m learning nothing. The constant flashbacks to scenes of torture and abuse (physical and mental) are upsetting and abhorrent. They are done of necessity, and are not gratuitous, but I don’t need to keep seeing them – I believe the men had a dreadful time of it in their 17 years of captivity, and I don’t need to keep witnessing the details.
I care that one man is finding it hard to reconnect with his powerful wife, the woman who has kept the faith for him all these years, who has kept her family together and made their house a perfect home that now seems to have little place for him. I care that the other man has been betrayed by his girlfriend, and find the dance of mutual lies between them convincing and moving. I care that the sister of the third man is pole-axed by her grief, and identify with her relationship with her brother’s ghost. I hate the psychiatrist who interrogates the returned prisoners, pushing them again and again to detect small inconsistencies. But at the same time, these scenes become boring to watch.
I don’t care enough to see more. I don’t care if either or both the men have been “turned” by their captors, or if their families do or don’t survive the emotional dramas of their return. I think that the Israeli version’s method of splitting the issues between three men rather than focusing them all in one, as in the American version, is much better. But I don’t want to see any more mangled bodies, scenes of abuse, or mentally agonising interrogations. I just can’t bear to sit through another 9 hours of slowly, beautifully filmed, pain and occasional happiness. If the story had been told at film length, or slightly longer, it would have held my interest. Yet at this pace, it is all too much. What am I missing by not watching any more of this?
Guardian: Prisoners of War: why the original is always the best.
Israeli drama Hatufim displays a level of sophistication that US remake Homeland didn’t quite achieve.
Guardian: TV review: Prisoners of War (Hatufim). What Hatufim doesn’t seem to be from the early evidence is the white-knuckle ride Homeland was. It smoulders rather than burns; less of a thriller, more of a thoughtful, psychological thriller – without the sniping and bombs. More of a family drama too, with the emphasis not so much on the action but on the PoWs rebuilding their lives. In other words, it hasn’t been given the 24 treatment.
Guardian: Why the Israeli version of Homeland has even more shock value. Homeland, with its US marine who has become a devout Muslim, packs an even more powerful punch in its original Israeli version.
Wikipedia: Homeland and Prisoners of War (spoilers).
Homeland and Prisoners of War are both available on DVD.