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  • TBC
  • 2003
  • 352 mins

Angels In America Part Two

Angels In America Part Two

Synopsis

Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson star in part two of Mike Nichols' fantastical drama about the spread of Aids in 1980s America

About

After the grand sweep of the first episode, the final part of Mike Nichols' adaptation of Tony Kushner's play has a lot to live up to, and a lot to cover. Entitled Perestroika, the pace slows and the tone grows more sombre as Prior (Kirk) battles with Aids, wrestles with The Angel (Thompson) and comes to believe he's a prophet. Sadly, because his character was so compelling, Al Pacino's Machiavellian lawyer, Roy Cohn dies half way through, but there are still extraordinary set-pieces, linguistic flights of fancy and elaborate fantasy sequences which slyly poke fun at themselves.

If anything, the scope is broader than in episode one. Kushner uses Prior's disintegration to criticise a government which refuses to acknowledge Aids, and though Cohn's Mormon protégé Joe (Wilson) comes to terms with his homosexuality, he doesn't let ethics interfere with his job as an attorney. Also in the background is Cohn's McCarthy-ite past, the plight of Joe's Valium-addicted wife Harper (Parker), and the arrival in New York of Joe's Mother (Streep) who, like several actors here, takes a number of roles).

These are complex issues and they're skilfully handled, but it's the fantastical set-pieces which dominate. A scene in which The Angel crashes through Prior's ceiling is camp melodrama of the highest order, and climaxes with Thompson giving Streep a big snog. Kushner's writing has a strange, poetic quality and Harpers description of a flight to San Francisco, of dead souls rising from the earth to restore the ozone layer, is an exhilarating example of verbal vituosity.

It ends in 1990 with a series of monologues cheekily delivered to camera, and Prior's assertion that "This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all. The world spins only forward. We will be citizens". As with Nichols' risky adaptation, it's an example of faith being amply rewarded.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Meryl Streep, Ben Shenkman, Jeffrey Wright, Al Pacino, Patrick Wilson, Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker, Justin Kirk
  • Director: Mike Nichols
  • Writer: Tony Kushner
  • Producer: Celia D Costas
  • Photographer: Stephen Goldblatt
  • Composer: Thomas Newman

In a nutshell

This is intense, intelligent and demanding TV, and though so much might have gone wrong, in fact it almost always goes right. This second episode is slower than the first but performances, writing and direction are expertly judged and the result is moving, memorable and thought-provoking.

by Jon Fortgang

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