Kate Beckinsale Is Riveting in Amazon’s New Drama Series ‘The Widow’

Amazon’s expensive new series “The Widow” is another one of those dramas where African conflict serves as the main background prop. At this point the plots write themselves. This time around it’s Kate Beckinsale who ventures into the Congo, the purpose being to find her missing husband. Moving on from blasting away ghouls and werewolves in the “Underworld” franchise, Beckinsale is allowed to show off her sharper acting skills here. She, along with the rest of the cast, brings believability to an otherwise standard plot. Even when the writing is cliché, she is riveting.

It begins with a plane crash, as it usually does. Georgia Wells (Beckinsale), who we first meet wandering a cold Wales, full of sadness, is haunted by the 2015 plane crash that might have killed her husband Will (Matthew Le Nevez). After injuring her knee, Georgia goes to a clinic for stitches and while sitting in the lobby, fate somehow intervenes and riots in the Democratic Republic of Congo flash on the waiting room TV. Georgia notices something in the footage, a figure that could possibly be…Will! Georgia gets in touch with Emmanuel Kazadi (Jacky Ido), whose wife died in the same plane crash years ago. Emmanuel has his own, secret reason for wanting to help Georgia. They begin by attempting to track down a mysterious military figure, Pieter Bello (Bart Fouche), who might have answers, and as we see in other scenes, is involved in some shady smuggling operation. In another corner of Europe, a mysterious blind man named Ariel Helgason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) is attempting to get a special surgery. He meets a blind woman with whom he strikes a bond and tells her about surviving the plane crash, but his story is not all it seems. As Georgia continues to dig deeper while attempting to find Will, she ventures further into a war-torn world and will make astonishing discoveries.

Compared to this year’s earlier, riveting “Black Earth Rising,” which dealt with the Rwandan genocide, “The Widow” plays like your average thriller. As with much peak TV material, it stretches itself out with “slow burner” techniques like ratcheting up the sadness factor, meandering a little when it comes to certain scenes and then suddenly killing off someone we were sure would make it. The production values are superb and there is some grit and startling realism to much of the material. But at the same time it offers little that’s fresh, provocative or even insightful. We are well aware that things are not going smoothly in Democratic Republic of Congo, we know the military and politicians are quite corrupt and even children become soldiers. This has been done much better and smarter in “Black Earth Rising” and “Beasts of No Nation,” which were dramas with social and political commentary in the subtext. “The Widow” is the equivalent of dropping Kate Beckinsale in the middle of Caracas, Venezuela to find her missing husband while we get shots of the poverty and rioting. Then again that might be more interesting considering South America rarely gets any attention for a streaming series. The plotting here also gets slightly jumbled, maybe it’s on purpose considering it’s a mystery and therefore wants to keep us in the dark until the very end (although by the end of the second episode a key mystery is already and clearly explained). Episodes slide in and out of flashbacks and timeframes, to explain to us why Emmanuel feels a secret guilt and must help Georgia, or how he met his new wife.

What does work quite well in “The Widow” is the superb cast. Beckinsale evokes real sadness and a battered psyche. She’s as good as Amy Adams in last year’s “Sharp Objects,” hiding her own scars revealing failed suicide attempts. It’s also refreshing to see Alex Kingston of “E.R.” fame back as Will’s boss, at first doubting Georgia and then being unable to deny the evidence showing Will might very well be alive. One of the best performances in the series is by Shalom Nyandiko as Adidja, who plays a child soldier trapped in the regional conflicts and tries to help another child survive. While Ólafsson blind man can feel like extra, added fluff to the plot, he’s still a great actor bringing a mysterious edge to the role. Bart Fouche has a dominating presence as that typical, African warlord that is a requirement in these kinds of shows.

As “The Widow” progresses it does gain more momentum by the end, even if you can already start guessing how Georgia will solve the whole mystery. At times the writing threatens to get a bit campy, particularly when it recycles some old clichés like having Georgia know how to use a weapon because inevitably she used to be in the army. It’s almost a golden rule that you can’t have someone actually have to learn how to use a gun in these thrillers. But the cinematography is fantastic and the show works best when it just focuses on Georgia’s inner turmoil. Interestingly enough, “The Widow” is more involving when it decides to be somber and reflective.

If you put this on your binge list, do it for the performances. Hopefully “The Widow” gives Beckinsale the momentum to start defining herself as an actress of deeper roles. She is the best element here, the rest is another drama reminding us of terrible things, but doing nothing more than just gazing.

The Widow” season one begins streaming March 1 on Amazon.