‘The Mandate,’ royal drama, ‘White Lotus’ - what's new on Israeli TV

This fascinating series features analysis by Jewish, Arab and British historians and archival footage from the era.

 KHALID ABDALLA (left) and Salim Dau in ‘The Crown.’ (photo credit: Keith Bernstein/Netflix)
KHALID ABDALLA (left) and Salim Dau in ‘The Crown.’
(photo credit: Keith Bernstein/Netflix)

We all know that Israel was established in 1948, but the road to statehood took some detours during the British Mandate period and a new documentary series, The Mandate, on Kan 11, currently running on Thursdays at 9:15 p.m., examines this convoluted history. Episodes are available on the Kan 11 website, kan.org.il, after they air.

This fascinating series features analysis by Jewish, Arab and British historians and archival footage from the era. More than most television documentary fare, it is dense with facts as it details such topics as the relationship between Jews and the British government during World War I and how the Allies carved up the Middle East following the armistice in ways that were economically and strategically advantageous to them.

One of the most interesting sections of the first episode concerns the Peel Commission, a British commission that was convened in 1936 to try to quiet unrest in Palestine. It turns out that former prime minister Lloyd George secretly testified to the Peel Commission in 1937. Among his remarks, he explained the thinking behind the 1917 Balfour Declaration: “As a matter of fact, we wanted the help of the Jews in the war [World War I] and we came to the conclusion from the reports that came to us from various governments, and especially from secret sources, that the Jews could either hinder us or help us very materially because they have communities all over the world and they are a dangerous people to quarrel with... but they are a very helpful people if you can get them on your side, therefore it was a serious strategical consideration that impelled us to issue [the Balfour Declaration] at that time.” If that interests you, you’ll definitely want to tune in to the series.

“As a matter of fact, we wanted the help of the Jews in the war [World War I] and we came to the conclusion from the reports that came to us from various governments, and especially from secret sources, that the Jews could either hinder us or help us very materially because they have communities all over the world and they are a dangerous people to quarrel with... but they are a very helpful people if you can get them on your side, therefore it was a serious strategical consideration that impelled us to issue [the Balfour Declaration] at that time.”

Lloyd George

British history and royal family

If you are interested in British history as it pertains to the royal family, you are likely looking forward to the fifth season of The Crown, which premieres on November 9 on Netflix. There has been a bit of gossip based on the trailer, which apparently was upsetting to some members of the royal family, at least according to Judi Dench, a friend of King Charles and the Queen Consort, who called it out for crude sensationalism.

 ‘THE WHITE LOTUS’ (credit: Fabio Lovino/HBO/Yes) ‘THE WHITE LOTUS’ (credit: Fabio Lovino/HBO/Yes)

Netflix reportedly added a disclaimer, saying the series is a drama, even though it features characters who are or were real people, following her criticism. This is one of those seasons where the actors switch and the queen will now be played by Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake), Prince Philip by Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Charles by Dominic West (whom you may remember as McNulty from The Wire) and Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) as Diana.

It will dramatize the time when the conflict between Charles and Diana got really ugly and played out in public, so it’s no wonder a friend of the family would be upset, especially since Queen Elizabeth II passed away so recently. It’s also the season many of us have been waiting for since we are hoping to see the other side of the tabloid headlines about the breakup of this royal marriage.

One of Israel’s most acclaimed actors, Salim Dau, who is best known for his performance in Avanti Popolo, in which he played a Shakespearean actor from Egypt trapped behind Israeli lines during the Six-Day War (which some consider the greatest performance by an actor in an Israeli film), has a key role in The Crown this season. He portrays Mohammed Al Fayed. Al Fayed, a poor Egyptian businessman who rose to the greatest heights of success in England, even purchasing the iconic Harrod’s department store. His son, Dodi Al Fayed, became romantically involved with Princess Diana and was killed with her when their car flipped over while fleeing the paparazzi.

The third episode of this season of The Crown is focused on Mohammed, nicknamed Mou Mou, who ingratiates himself with the royal family in an unexpected way, and whose education in how to be a British gentleman is the centerpiece of the episode. Both he and Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) are major characters in the season. Dau has appeared in television before, including on Fauda, Tyrant and Arab Labor, but this is his most high-profile international series.

ANOTHER DRAMA that may upset some at Buckingham Palace, The Trial of Christine Keeler, will be available on Hot VOD on November 3 and will be shown on Hot 3 starting on December 6.

The White Lotus: A distinctive, funny and dark HBO series

If you would like some intelligent entertainment while you wait for The Crown, the second season of the distinctive, funny and dark HBO series, The White Lotus, created by Mike White, has just started running on Hot, Yes and Cellcom TV (and their VOD platforms). Like the first season, it’s great TV.

The first season was set in Hawaii among the guests and staff of a luxury resort, and this time it’s Sicily. But the seven-episode series has the same opening gimmick: It starts at the end of the week when the guests are about to go home, and it turns out that (at least) one person has died at the resort but you don’t find out who until the final episode. The rest of the season is a flashback of the events that lead up to the death.

Because in a certain sense, the second season is repeating a formula, it’s less distinctive than the first but it’s still excellent. It would be possible to enjoy this series even if you did not see the first season, which swept all the major Emmy Awards in its category.

Once again, the series uses the connected stories of the guests and staff to examine questions of class issues in a sophisticated fashion that is rarely seen on American (or any) television. While the first season was more focused on racism as well as class, this one tackles sexual politics but not in a preachy way. The series echoes many of the themes in the recent movie, Triangle of Sadness, and to paraphrase a line by Frederic Raphael in the novel, The Glittering Prizes, it doesn’t tell you what to think, it tells you that you should think.

Much of the drama comes from the tension between the wealthy patrons and the working-class staff. Valentina (Sabrina Impacciatore), the manager, like the unforgettable Murray Bartlett in the first season, is there to make sure the resort offers the guests a vacation as far removed as possible from reality. She comes off as shrewish at first, but as you get to know her, she becomes a more sympathetic figure.

Jennifer Coolidge is the single main character to return from season one, playing the needy, self-centered heiress, Tanya. She brings the husband she acquired in the first season, Greg (John Vries), along with her, as well as her assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson).

Greg, for some reason, is upset that Portia is present at the resort and doesn’t want to see her, so she befriends a young American, Adam (Albie de Grasso). Adam is on a kind of roots trip with his distracted father (Michael Imperioli, who was Christopher on The Sopranos) and grandfather (F. Murray Abraham of Amadeus and Homeland), who is overly flirtatious with waitresses.

There are also two couples traveling together: Cam (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahey), and Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza). Cam and Ethan knew each other at college and nerdy Ethan has just made a hi-tech fortune, which alters the dynamic between the couples. Many of the guests cross paths with two local young women, Lucia (Simona Tabasco) and Mia (Beatrice Ganno), who are trying to work as call girls.

The show is more than the sum of its parts, and it is so well written and structured that you will be anxious for each new episode to begin. Your perceptions of the characters are constantly shifting and when you think a situation will end with a laugh, it often turns dramatic and vice versa.

The production design and the scenery are intensely beautiful, and all the patterns on the characters’ clothes may remind you of a Pedro Almodovar movie. If Almodovar made a television series, it might play a little like The White Lotus.