When We Rise (Miniseries) (2017)

This eight-part miniseries about the history of gay rights in the United States is a perfect example of how good intentions don’t always translate effectively on the screen. The first four episodes are stronger than the last four, mainly thanks to its multi-layered narrative and its effective reconstruction of 1970s and 1980s San Francisco, which are portrayed as a time of never-ending oppression, persecution and terror for the LGBT community. However it’s hard not to notice that two out of three of its lead characters (Cleve Jones and Roma Guy) are routinely unlikable and uninteresting, which makes following their personal stories rather frustrating. Luckily, Ken Jones (played as a young man by an extraordinary Jonathan Majors) is on hand to usher the audience along, and his personal story is gripping and heartbreaking. However, the last four episodes find all three roles re-cast as the decades pass (with Guy Pearce and Mary-Louise Parker taking over from Austin P. McKenzie and Emily Skeggs as Jones and Guy, respectively), and both have a tendency to grate on the audience’s nerves: Both are unpleasant and truculent, and while their respective advocacy for the LGBT community are historically important, as characters, they’re off-putting bores, and the majority of their dialogue amounts to lectures intended at the audience instead of natural-sounding conversations. Add in a number of fascinating, well-acted supporting characters that often disappear from the narrative (like Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg and David Hyde Pierce), and the entire miniseries becomes a bit of a drag to watch.

Rating: ★★ (out of 5)

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