It opens with the ending – a bloody, bullet-riddled ending. A car is towed into a town and children gather to gawk. One of them approaches the covered bodies in the car and pulls back the cover to stare at the dead face of Clyde Barrow. Beside him is Bonnie Parker, equally dead.
Bonnie & Clyde (Sunday, Monday, History, Lifetime, A&E, 9 p.m.) then proceeds with a voiceover narrative by Clyde. His birth and dirt-poor background. The things he likes: “I like fast cars, girls who don’t so much talk as undress.” His grandma told him he had the gift of “second sight,” so Clyde (Emile Hirsch) believes he has visions of the future. This makes him a tad arrogant.
Things then unfold rapidly. Clyde’s youth is spent stealing chickens and getting into minor trouble. Then he meets Bonnie (Holliday Grainger, who was Lucrezia on The Borgias), and Clyde says, “Bonnie Parker had always been lookin’ for me, like I’d always been lookin’ for her.”
Thing is, Bonnie is married, and Clyde has just crashed her wedding party. The way she looks at him, though, makes you see what Clyde meant.
To many people, especially those of a certain age, the defining portrait of the murderous robbers Bonnie and Clyde was painted by the 1967 movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. That was, of course, a very 1960s production, emphasizing the two as rebels, beautiful representatives of counterculture lifted from the early 1930s. The movie’s tagline said it all – “They’re young. They’re in love. They kill people.”
What unfolds in this two-part miniseries directed by Bruce Beresford involves much more brooding about the main characters and the bond between them. While there is some attention paid to the Depression-era context, it’s more about the dynamic these two created that propelled them on their crime spree. It’s about fame and what makes people addicted to it.
Grainger is superb. Her Bonnie is a wannabe actress who adores the spotlight. Failing to make much of an effort to actually become a starlet, she sees criminal notoriety as the next best thing. Encouraged by her mother (Holly Hunter) to believe in her destiny, she delights in accumulating press clippings about her life of crime. She’s a force of nature – a young woman bored by restrictions and finding in Clyde the vehicle to transcend everything that limits her.
We also learn a good deal more about Clyde than in the 1967 movie, and how prison hardened him into a man prepared to abandon everything for the thrill of robbing and killing. Inevitably, of course, the drama becomes a chase. A retired Texas ranger, Frank Hamer (William Hurt), sees nothing glamorous about Bonnie and Clyde and is relentless in his pursuit.
The miniseries is no masterpiece. At times it feels like it is dutifully chronicling every robbery and killing in order to be accurate. But it looks gorgeous, and there’s depth in its examination of the psychology of fame and of how the expectations of the public will propel a fame-seeker into the gates of hell. And even when it drags a bit, Grainger’s Bonnie is someone you can’t turn away from – a femme fatale, a siren and, in a way, a feminist pushing at the limits imposed by gender and background.
Also airing this weekend
Christmas in the City (Saturday, Lifetime, 8 p.m.) is not the usual heartwarming fare, it seems. It has been summarized as this: “Ashanti stars as a department store consultant who fires Santa Claus and replaces him with a male underwear model.” Probably somebody’s idea of fun holiday entertainment, so enjoy it if that’s your bag.
The Lost Hero of 9/11 (Sunday, CBC NN, 10 p.m. on Passionate Eye) is a compelling documentary that fleshes out, wonderfully, a footnote in what happened when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001. Later, there emerged a story about the rescue of two men trapped in the rubble who faintly heard a voice calling: “U.S. Marine Corps. Can anybody hear me?” They responded and then a burly man found them, pulled them out to safety and went home. For years, no one could figure out who he was.
Here we get his story. Law student Jason Thomas had served in the Marines and did what he could in the situation. The father of five walked away and stayed quiet in part because he didn’t want his wife to know that he had risked his life, and he didn’t particularly want to be famous. Here we get a fascinating picture of someone who just followed his best instincts and didn’t want any fuss.