It is 1985, Ronald Reagan is in the White House and AIDS is causing mass death across America. We get to take a look at Manhattan and as Prior Walter tells his lover Louis that he has AIDS everything else will link with that and six people intertwine more than we could possibly imagine.
Number of Episodes: 6
Angels in America is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tony Kushner, who adapted his own work in screenplay form for this miniseries by HBO which was directed by Mike Nichols. This is something I have wanted to see for many years now, considering the outstanding cast and the award buzz surrounding it. The West End had a revival in 2017 of the play and it is done in two parts. This miniseries had been split into 6 different chapters which all together is just less than 6 hours of film.
The working of the six chapters really was a good way to watch it as I had read that it had been put together in some different formats, that also including three 2 hour features. The whole thing is very hard hitting, powerful and difficult to watch at times. Overall though truly outstanding, I was blown away by so many moments and the messages it sends.
Prior had been together with Louis for four years and as soon as he tells him he has AIDS Louis leaves. That is not a good start in terms of how you view a character as I pretty much hated him from that moment on. Prior having to deal with things mainly on his own although he does get some support from his best friend Belize, who just happens to be a nurse. He is given a rather high profile patient who actually has AIDS although they are trying to pass it off as liver cancer that being Roy Cohn. He is a lawyer and firmly in the closet as is Joe Pitt, a Mormon and republican at attorney who is married to Harper. She has her own issues of being on Valium constantly and therefore finds herself hallucinating a lot. Until eventually she must accept her husband is gay. Joe drunkly comes out to his mother Hannah who then moves to NYC to try and help the situation.
The complex nature of the plot really needed to have all of this time, which when you take into consideration the many different angels to the different characters it really is on another level. The pain and suffering of Prior and Roy from AIDS is very tough to handle and really does make you feel for everyone who suffered with that horrendous disease. How they were both left by the people around them and had to battle on alone. As much as Roy was not a very nice character and Belize did not have a good opinion of him in the end he wanted to make things better for him. As I mentioned earlier Louis was not a nice person at all, even when he begins a relationship with Joe he is constantly argumentative and just wanted to be right all of the time.
We are given many different characters though and that certainly makes for the interesting journey we are taken on. How the situations have changed them for the better or for the worst. Harper has a very sad existence and her scenes were also very powerful as she was struggling to accept the life she was now stuck in with a sexless marriage to a homosexual man who doesn’t really love her.
To create a powerful and incredible drama like this it was essential to have outstanding performances and that is something that Angels in America really did get spot on.
Justin Kirk is so engaging as Prior and you really do feel his pain as he goes through everything. Ben Shenkman was also very engaging even though I disliked the character a lot, I am putting that down to a very good performance. Emma Thompson in a supporting role as a nurse and an angel as always steals the scene.
Meryl Streep has quite a few different roles to play and I will admit that when it first started and she was The Rabbi I was actually doubting what I was about to watch. But she gets to have so many different types of roles within this miniseries. That of Hannah Pitt was probably the best as she tries to come to terms with her sons sexuality.
Al Pacino as Roy gives you what at first feels like a normal type of character for him being very full on, loud and authoritative. But what we then see is who AIDS destroys this formally tough character. This gives a very interesting Pacino performance, which really is different.
Mary-Louise Parker is given a very difficult role as she hallucinated her way through the series as a coping mechanism. This gives her plenty of scenes which will really blow your mind. Patrick Wilson is an actor I always struggle with (I am sorry but Hard Candy has ruined me, still) but he was decent in this as the tortured man hiding his true identity.
Jeffery Wright was the standout performer for me personally everything about his persona and presence was unreal. He played this role in the original broadway production as well which is perfectly then taken to the screen. I have to admit that I didn’t even fully recognise him at first, just showing how different this is from the roles I have previous seen him in.
While watching and feeling uncomfortable and blown away by different scenes and performances I could not help but wonder how extra emotional it would be seeing this performed on stage. It really must push you to the limits in terms of the way it all makes you feel. A very tough watch but I feel very important to remember what so many people, mainly young men went through with the outbreak of AIDS/HIV in the 1980s.