Boardwalk Empire

Nucky Thompson
Boardwalk Empire launched a couple of years ago, but I'm a bit late to the prohibition party. Here in the UK, HBO programmes are all on the Sky Atlantic channel, which you can only access if you have a satellite dish and pay for it. I have cable, so can't get any HBO programmes. That hasn't always been the case – I watched The Wire on FX – but has been for a couple of years and looks like staying like that for the foreseeable future. My friend Kai sent me the box set of Game of Thrones series 3 for my birthday, and after we ran out of big, glossy shows to watch, Mr Robot bought the three-series box set of Boardwalk Empire on DVD from Amazon (£30).

The programme centres on Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, corrupt Treasurer of Atlantic City, and the first episode is set in 1920, just as Prohibition begins. Gangsters, bootleggers, gamblers and prohibition agents are all tossed into the mix.

It ought to be explosive stuff, but I found parts of the first series strangely non-gripping. We spent the weekend watching the first and second series, as Mr Robot was ill and confined to the sofa. I think if I’d been watching it weekly on telly, I would have given up part of the way through the first series. The first episode, directed by Scorsese was brilliant, but later things seemed somewhat unventful. Nucky is mostly on top of things in that first series: he’s getting in plenty of illegal alcohol, indulging in vote rigging and racking up favours owed by politicians – he even falls in love with a naive young woman whose husband is a brute. As Nucky, Steve Buscemi is brilliant. The problem is that some of the other characters are simply dull, and while it’s important to the narrative to see the characters as real people with home lives, it’s pretty sapping to the story. It wouldn’t be so bad with a bit more tension between cities and rival bosses, but you don’t really feel that.

The second series, with Nucky fighting for his personal and political survival, and with the jostling for position between rival bootleggers becoming more deadly, is much more lively and interesting. I don’t want to say too much about the plot as it will spoil things if you haven’t seen the show, but there’s definitely more action.

Margaret Schroder - look at the embroidery on her coat!
One of the things I like is the programme’s blend of reality and unreality. There was a real Nucky Thompson, but he wasn’t quite like the one in the show. Al Capone, 'Lucky' Luciano,  and Arnold Rothstein did, of course, exist, but Jimmy and his showgirl mother did not. I suppose the aim was to create something that felt plausible while still being a work of fiction, and that’s achieved.

I loved the costumes. They’re exquisite. It’s rare that you see a programme where the men’s costumes are as beautifully thought out as the women’s, but it’s the case here. Chaps with an eye for fashion will love the suits, and I really like the noticeable but not loud checked fabrics that Nucky favours. African-American bootlegger Albert 'Chalky' White also has noteworthy suits, in wonderful jewel tones. I did comment to my husband in one scene, “I bet you’ve got hat envy now.”

The costumers resisted the urge to go high 20s for the women; dresses are still mostly ankle-length, hats have brims, and by the second series the only major female character who has a bob is gangster Jimmy’s rather bohemian wife – in other words, it’s all in keeping with 1920/1921. But the details! When the characters are wealthy, you can really see it in the quality of their clothing. In the second series there’s a scene where Margaret travels to New York to visit her long-lost family, and the embroidery on her coat collar is just perfect. In many of her scenes, while her fabrics are matte and quite muted in colour, there’s luscious embroidery to add texture and a deco touch.

Overall, I suppose the programme hasn’t been the roaring 20s heaven I anticipated. I love all the period music, it looks fantastic, and some of the actors are great. However, it feels lacking in pace, somehow, and in many places in the first series, a tad confused. The second series is better than the first; here’s hoping for something great in the third.

Note: we purchased the DVDs. I get nothing for the Amazon link, it's there for your convenience!


  1. Interesting review. Boardwalk Empire DVDs have been on my Christmas and birthday wish lists for a couple of years so I still haven't seen it! I heard that the costumes were fantastic, good to know that they really are.

    1. They really are brilliant - Clothes on Film has an interview with the costumer here: and it's clear how much thought and care goes into the outfits.

    2. Thanks for that link. Will take a look.

  2. I haven't seen it because we haven't got access to those channels, I thought it would have been my husband's cup of tea...he likes gangster things normally...but he said no. I wondered what it was like, always have the old ears prick up where costumes are concerned!

    On a different theme, but purely because you knit...have you seen the Woman's Weekly "Vintage View" facsimile magazines? They have download vintage patterns for jumpers and cardigans etc both crochet and knitting.

    1. Oooh, I have not seen those magazines! I shall look them up. I've nearly finished my pink top, so need to find my next project.

    2. The first one was last month, but I think you might be able to order a back issue from them, before deciding if you want to bother with them. I have just bought the second. Quite fun, but parts are hard to read...but then I am as blind as a bat! sepia background and small print.


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