Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter's Golden Globe-winning series Boardwalk Empire is a fascinating look at the birth of US gangster mythology
Atlantic City, 16 January 1920, and the world is about to change. The great war has ended, prohibition is about to be passed, women are fighting for the right to vote and in this small seaside enclave a battle is brewing for control not just of the city's finances but, more importantly, for its hearts and minds.
While the teeming boardwalk along the beachfront offers all manner of entertainment from showgirls to astrologers, freak shows to drinking dens, inside City Hall, Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, the city treasurer, is juggling a desire for power with a belief in trying to do the right thing even as his former protege Jimmy Darmody returns from the battlefields of Europe determined to make his mark, legally or otherwise. This is a place where the lines between right and wrong are increasingly blurred and where anything is available, at a price.
Small wonder that New York and Chicago's gangsters, among them the suave Arnold Rothstein and his volatile companion Charles "Lucky" Luciano, are following developments with interest. And that the FBI are also lurking on the sidelines, monitoring the changing times.
Welcome to Boardwalk Empire, HBO's latest drama. That's right: it's HBO, it's the state of New Jersey and it's gangsters, but those fearing a Sopranos-redux should stop worrying. For this isn't the world of Tony and Co, steeped in mafia lore and saturated in quotes from The Godfather and Goodfellas. Instead Boardwalk Empire aims to capture an era in which America was still creating its mythology.
Based on a book by Nelson Johnson, overseen by former Sopranos writer Terence Winter, with a pilot directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire is a lovingly detailed recreation of the America of The Untouchables and Jimmy Cagney, a place where the rules were just being written, sin was sexy and greed more than just good.
As you might imagine, given those involved, it looks amazing. The lavish pilot was rumoured to have cost anywhere between £12m and £33m, while in order to recreate the feel of Atlantic City in the 20s, the show's creators spent an estimated £3.5m on building a ghost town in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighbourhood. It's a huge investment, particularly when you consider that not so long ago HBO was forced to cancel Deadwood and Rome because of the heavy costs involved.
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