2003, TV

Angels in America (2003, Mike Nichols)

There is a part of me that wants to say this is one of the great works of American literature of the late 20th century but I don’t know enough late 20th century literature to say that with any kind of authority and, specifically, I can’t tell you how few American plays I’ve seen written from then, so, really, I don’t know what I’m saying.

It is, mostly, a magnificent work of art. And the staging of it for HBO is, mostly, magnificent (though the CGI has dated horribly).

There are a few parts of the play that I think are a little too over the top, but then there’s not much of that in the six acts, and there’s far more that’s affecting, touching, humourous and/or thought-provoking.

Also, putting this on the air – well, in the ground…yuk yuk yuk – in 2003 was genius. I mean, this is an early indication of the ability of TV to take literature and put it on TV successfully. And putting aside the quality of the play, it’s really cool to see something like this and the possibilities it suggests are endless. (And nobody has really followed through on that promise beyond Game of Thrones. Let’s see some Dostoevsky on TV. Let’s see some Faulkner. Let’s see Shakespeare’s plays combined into series! Come on, people!)

Oh, and one more thing: I feel bad for Justin Kirk. This should have made him a star. Why didn’t it? Why did he end up being a supporting player on Weeds? He’s billed later because of the star power, but he’s clearly the star of the play and he is excellent. Why hasn’t he gotten more roles?


  • Written by Tony Kushner
  • Directed by Mike Nichols
  • Starring:
    • Al Pacino as Roy Cohn
    • Meryl Streep as Hannah Pitt / Ethel Rosenberg / The Rabbi / The Angel Australia
    • Patrick Wilson as Joe Pitt
    • Mary-Louise Parker as Harper Pitt
    • Emma Thompson as Nurse Emily / Homeless woman / The Angel America
    • Justin Kirk as Prior Walter / Leatherman in park
    • Jeffrey Wright as Mr. Lies / Norman “Belize” Ariaga / Homeless man / The Angel Europa
    • Ben Shenkman as Louis Ironson / The Angel Oceania
    • James Cromwell as Henry, Roy’s doctor
    • Michael Gambon as Prior Walter Ancestor No. 1
    • Simon Callow as Prior Walter Ancestor No. 2
  • Theme music composer: Thomas Newman
  • Country of origin: United States
  • Original languages: English, Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish
  • No. of episodes: 6
  • Producer: Celia D. Costas
  • Cinematography: Stephen Goldblatt
  • Editors: John Bloom, Antonia Van Drimmelen
  • Running time: 352 minutes
  • Budget: $60 million
  • Original network: HBO
  • Original release: December 7 – December 14, 2003

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