The story of Bonnie and Clyde is far from a fairytale, and director Bruce Beresford doesn’t try to present it as one in the TV miniseries that showcases the two notorious criminals. Starring Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch as the titular Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Bonnie & Clyde delivers a story that’s entertaining, suspenseful and engrossing all at once, without relying entirely on glamour or flashy bank robbery scenes to draw interest. Although, a few more bank robbery scenes wouldn’t have hurt, Bonnie & Clyde succeeds in humanizing the title characters, which is one reason to give the miniseries a look when it airs next week.
Anyone who’s heard the true story of Bonnie & Clyde likely knows how it ends, and the miniseries doesn’t bother trying to fool us into thinking this is a tale with a happily ever after. In fact, Bonnie & Clyde begins with the end, and then brings us back to the start of this story, where it then takes its time to introduce us first to Clyde and his brother Buck when they were just kids stealing chickens. Bonnie isn’t introduced to us until Clyde and Buck are grown, though we do catch a glimpse of her in one of the premonitions Clyde has as a child about his future. Clyde’s rumored clairvoyance is used in the story through premonitions that offer a bit of foreshadowing and add a layer of suspense, particularly at the beginning when we’re still in the introductory stage of Bonnie and Clyde’s relationship.
Bonnie & Clyde isn’t in a rush to get to the action. It becomes evident throughout the course of the first part that this story wants to be about who Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were first, and what they did second. It presents Bonnie as a woman eager to make a name for herself, if not in Hollywood than in the headlines. While Clyde is a man who seems prone to breaking the law, and may have a blind spot when it comes to the woman at his side. It’s that combination — added to the depression era setting when times were particularly tough — that seems to spark their eventual crime-wave, which begins small and builds from there. As we try to understand what makes these two people tick, the story grows more violent and the outcome more inevitable, especially as we see the continued efforts of Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (William Hurt), who comes out of retirement to hunt the elusive criminals down. Glimpses of the press the story is getting and the law’s efforts to capture Bonnie & Clyde serve the story well, as they offer a wider perspective on what’s going on and the kind of exposure Bonnie & Clyde managed to get in the years of their crime wave.
Holliday Grainger is well cast as the female lead. She plays Bonnie with layers of vulnerability, ambition, courage, vanity and a bit of ruthlessness, making the character mesmerizing and also a little bit scary. It would probably be unfair to say that Hirsch is out-shined by Grainger because the role of Clyde seems intentionally set up to stand near, if not in, Bonnie’s shadow. With that said, Hirsch carries the role of Clyde well, though the character's motives seem a bit less clear, beyond his criminal background and devotion to Bonnie, which may very well be enough to explain his actions.
Rounding out the cast is Holly Hunter, playing Bonnie’s mother Emma. Lane Garrison plays Buck Barrow, Clyde’s brother and frequent partner in crime. Sarah Hyland plays Buck’s wife Blanche -- also part of the gang, though reluctantly so. And Elizabeth Reaser plays P.J. Lane, a journalist who writes a series of articles about Bonnie & Clyde early on in their crime spree. Reaser's another one well cast for her role, though I wish we would've seen a bit more of her in the second part.
Bonnie & Clyde takes a simmer approach, rather than a boil, in its efforts to tell the story of these two infamous criminals and their gang, but it doesn’t shy away from violence, nor does it indulge in it beyond what one might expect from a story like this. Where the miniseries succeeds most is in its efforts to get inside the heads of Bonnie and Clyde and let us try to understand their motives. Beyond that, it’s violent, a little bit sexy at times and engaging enough to be well worth a look.
Bonnie & Clyde airs Sunday, December 8 and Monday, December 9 at 9/8c on Lifetime, A&E and History.