Three-network event ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ comes up short

Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch as Bonnie & Clyde in a more lighthearted moment.

Two and a half stars

Bonnie & Clyde December 8 & 9, 9 p.m., A&E/History/Lifetime.

It’s pretty much impossible to depict the lives of notorious criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow without drawing comparisons to Arthur Penn’s landmark 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde, but the new miniseries of the same name fails at more than just living up to a classic movie. A&E Networks is giving its Bonnie & Clyde a huge push, airing the two-part event simultaneously on its A&E, Lifetime and History channels, and the production values do look a little higher than typical basic-cable original programming. The producers recruited journeyman film director Bruce Beresford (nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Tender Mercies back in 1984) to helm the series, and the supporting cast includes recognizable actors William Hurt and Holly Hunter (both Oscar winners).

They’re not the stars, though—Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch play the title characters, and they’re no Holly Hunter and William Hurt. The British Grainger in particular gives a rather hammy performance as Bonnie, laughably overdoing her Southern accent. Penn’s film wasn’t exactly historically accurate, but for a show produced in part for the History channel, the new version doesn’t do any better. Writers John Rice and Joe Batteer condense and alter events for the sake of suspense and titillation, making Bonnie into a manipulative, fame-seeking femme fatale and giving Clyde a series of hokey premonitions about the couple’s violent end.

They also invent a plucky female reporter (played by Elizabeth Reaser of the Twilight movies) in what seems like a weak concession to the Lifetime audience, although she never comes across as anything other than a tacked-on addition to the story. There’s a reason that Bonnie and Clyde are still famous 80 years after their multi-state crime spree, but the show does a poor job of depicting the way they captured popular attention in an era of extreme economic hardship. The supporting characters (including Hurt as a determined lawman and Hunter as Bonnie’s mother) are ill-defined, especially the other members of the couple’s gang, and reading Wikipedia will give you a better understanding of how the crimes escalated. Back in 1967, Penn’s film was an important artistic statement; this version is just going through the motions.

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