Prisoners Of War, otherwise known as Hatufim in it’s native Hebrew, is absolutely gripping. When I was asked to review a foreign drama, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. I sat down, completely in the dark about it’s premise, worldwide accolades, and the fact that its pilot script alone was enough to create a hit American television drama Homeland.
The show follows three PoW’s, Uri, Nimrode and Amiel and their families as they come home after 17 years in captivity. Prisoners of War holds nothing back. It’s gritty, graphic and full of plot twists and emotion. Not only does it cover the PoW’s point of view but also how their families and friends have to adjust to their absence. This dynamic plays out under the watchful eye of the nation, as the main characters have been made national icons of all the Israeli PoW’s and their plight has had media attention for nearly 2 decades.
To add to the already compelling story line, the PoW’s must undergo psychiatric evaluations as well as intense debriefings with their own military to find out if they have been turned and are now working for the other side. As the season plays out we see graphic flashback scenes of their experiences in captivity, as they endure physical and psychological torture. Each flashback gradually reveals important plot points as well as spurring on the mystery of others. Every cast member plays an amazing role that transcends the language barrier. Beyond the amazing main characters there are great supporting roles too. Talia, the stalwart wife of Nimrode who vigilantly campaigns for his freedom, to the sister of Amiel who battles here own psychological demons in dealing with his absence.
Filmed in Israel this show is far more impactful that it’s American counterpart Homeland. Partially due to the very real and imminent dangers of those living near the Gaza Strip. Currently Israel has approximately 1,500 former PoW’s in the country, and many were released in exchange negotiations with the Palestinian government. These themes are covered heavily in Prisoners of War, including the backlash of the exchanges releasing Palestinian terrorists back into the public. The Guardian UK reports that “Soldiers released in prisoner exchanges report feeling blamed for every terrorist attack after the swap. When a bus gets blown up, they see accusing eyes on them, as if the bombers being freed to commit such atrocities is their fault.”
Gideon Raff, creator of both Prisoners of War and Homeland, interviewed several former PoW’s when creating this show “I interviewed many of them for research for Hatufim, as well as psychologists and academics who had studied what happened to them when they were returned to Israel. It is a subject that has been covered in films such as The Manchurian Candidate and Sommersby, but not in a television drama.” Said Raff, “I wanted to explore whether they are the same person when they come home or have they been turned? Are they hiding a secret?”
If you’re worried about picking it up because of the subtitles, they are easy to follow and very little is lost in translation. Occasionally there is something in the script that reminds you this is a foreign tv show (cue the 17-year-old making a Buddy Hackett joke) but I was never completely lost. If you’re still not convinced, seasons 1 & 2 are available on Hulu (however, the Hulu subtitles don’t cover anything written down, which includes some major plot points).
Give the show a try and I guarantee you’ll want the DVD which features several commentaries from creator/writer/director Gideon Raff and Director of Photography Itai Neeman as well as a behind the scenes look at the making of Prisoners of War including an interview with Raff.
Total Running Time: 530 minutes