‘Boardwalk Empire’: Season 1 Blu-ray review

Violence, corruption and sleaze have never looked so damn good, as the first season of HBO’s award-hungry Boardwalk Empire hits Blu-ray.

Set in Atlantic City at the start of the Roaring Twenties, it charts the birth of organised crime through Prohibition; from the people enterprising enough to be directly involved in it to those hoovered up by its intoxicating influence.

If the only exposure you’ve had to gangsters has been Scorsese films and the Ant Hill Mob from Wacky Races then prepare for a more realistic take on the genre, as we follow corrupt politician Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (a brilliant Steve Buscemi, all shifty eyes and queasy smiles) as he intersects with the lives of family man James Darmody (Michael Pitt), widow Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald) and FBI agent Van Alden (Michael “Kneel before Zod” Shannon).

What’s particularly impressive about Boardwalk Empire is that it manages to live up to the expectations set, not just by it’s pre-publicity, but also it’s opening episode, directed by Martin Scorsese.

The template for quality set in the feature-length pilot continues across all 12 episodes, with rich filmic cinematography, detailed sets, and an authentic ‘20s soundtrack, all of which envelop you in a rotten world with a glamorous sheen.

It’s no surprise then, that that glamour and the effort put into the look of the show is served well by the Blu-ray format. Be it a swingin’ Speakeasy shindig, snow falling on Chicago, or one of the many, many brutal executions, everything looks fantastic, and it makes for a thoroughly immersive viewing experience.

Easy though it is to gush about the production you never forget that Boardwalk is a work of compelling character studies, the kind that HBO have become masters at producing (see our Top 10 HBO Dramas if you’re hankering for proof). Watching the interaction and reaction you can only nod to yourself and think, “Yep, that ‘Outstanding Casting’ Emmy fell in the right hands”, before another gunshot makes you flinch.

Buscemi’s Nucky is the complex reptile taking up much of the sun, but no one else falls into the shade. Kelly MacDonald is the vulnerable but passionate Margaret, Michael Pitt exudes a damaged recklessness as Jimmy Darmody, the young tough buck trying to prove himself to himself and everyone around him after being hollowed out by the trauma of The Great War, and even Al Capone is allowed to flourish from beyond his pop-culture facade into something realistic.

Whether you’re an addicted fan or someone who missed the show the first time around, Boardwalk Empire on Blu-ray is a must-see. These are ugly lives told with astonishing beauty.

Extras: Like a keg of smuggled whisky, Boardwalk is something to be savoured, and the special features more than live up to the series’ high-quality.

The star attraction for fans is the Enhanced Features option, which gives each episode a fascinating ‘in-picture’ commentary from cast and crew and gives the viewer the opportunity to see some behind the scenes footage. Coupled with the audio commentaries, it’s as comprehensive as any fan could wish it to be.

Extras such as the brief pieces on the construction of the set and Making of are nice additions, and by Episode 8 you may find the Character Dossier to be of use if you need a refresher on who’s doing what to whom.

History buffs and those eager to learn more about the series setting are well catered for. Atlantic City: The Real Sin City is a 30 minute documentary detailing the history of the show’s setting, and has some good local colour in its examination, while the Speakeasy Tour takes us around the once Mafia-controlled speakeasies of New York and Chicago, with stories and history from many of the current owners.


Released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 9th January 2012 by Warner Home Video.

> Buy the Blu-ray boxset on Amazon.

> Buy  the DVD boxset on Amazon.

Watch the Season 2 trailer…

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