- 13 Jul 17
Our new favourite mob drama is Black Widow, a Dutch show starring Monic Hendrickx who gives yer’ Pacinos and De Niros a serious run for their money.
Those still mourning The Sopranos ten years after Tony & Co.’s lives freeze-framed to the acompaniment of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ will be delighted to hear about Black Widow, a thrill-a-minute Dutch mafia series, which is available for your channel4.com Walter Presents bingeing pleasure. The action centres around Carmen van Walraven-de Rue – great name! – who’s “just a housewife” days end when her crime boss husband is gunned down by rivals. With no other means of keeping her family in the style they’ve become accustomed to, Carmen reluctantly decides to assume tutto de capo duties. Cue rave reviews for it and star turn, Monic Hendrickx, in publications as diverse as De Telegraf, The Guardian, Deadline and the New York Times.
“The New York Times? Wow, I didn’t even know it was on in America!” Monic exclaims. “It’s strange but wonderful to be talking to an Irish journalist about our ‘new’ show, which is actually eight years old now. We never thought it would be seen by an English-speaking audience. In Holland, we grow up watching programmes from Britain, Germany, Holland, France – everywhere! – whereas I think it’s only more recently that people in your country have grown used to subtitles.”
“I’m glad you’re getting to see the original series rather than an English remake because there’s a very particular type of Dutch humour in it and I worked hard on my Amsterdam accent!” she laughs.
A Dutch pal of mine from the Jordaan tells me that Monic has got that Amsterdamer accent of hers spot on! The 50-year-old fell in love with her character the moment she read the razor-sharp script.
“It’s called Black Widow where you are, yeah?” she resumes. “Here the title is Penoza, which is a sort of word for ‘woman succeeding in a man’s world’. I loved the idea of this mother being forced to take-over from her criminal underworld husband, struggling at first, and then realising that she’s really good at it. The story is very empowering.”
Whilst billed as fiction, Black Widow bears more than a passing resemblance to the real life story of Thea Moear, the only woman to occupy a capo position in one of Holland’s notoriously violent crime gangs.
“She was a former beauty queen who was involved in the 1970s drug syndicate run by Klaas Bruinsma,” Monic explains. “I read a book about her as part of my research. The big difference between Thea and Carmen is that she didn’t have any children. Living that sort of life is hard enough without having a family to worry about.”
Monic is fascinated when I tell her that, on the back of another hard-hitting organised crime series, Love/Hate, half a dozen Irish actors including Robert Sheehan, Ruth Negga and Killian Scott have made their way to Tinsel Town.
“Wow, those are big names,” she says. “There’s a new director for Season Five of Penoza because the original one, Diederik Van Rooijen, has gone over to Los Angeles.”
He’s helming Cadaver, a hospital morgue yarn starring Shay Mitchell of Pretty Little Liars fame and Hollywood hearthrob of the moment, Grey Damon. Asked whether Monic hopes to follow him to La-La Land, she smiles and says,
“I’m probably too old now, plus I’ve got a family that I don’t want to move half-way across the world. The time I might possibly have found work in America was in 1998 when the Karim Traïdia film I was in, The Polish Bride, received a Golden Globe nomination but nobody recognised what a big opportunity it was.”
Monic also got to star as an Afghani refugee in the 2007 Australian remake, Unfinished Sky, which was a massive hit Down Under, and gave her a taste of the ratings-topping success she’s gone on to enjoy with Penoza.
“Its popularity in Holland stretches from the boys at the snackbar on the corner to doctors and judges,” she reflects. “It has fans among Dutch criminals as well as their police counterparts. Production value-wise, it’s really raised the bar here and paved the way for other crime series like Klem, which I imagine you’ll be seeing soon as well. It’s been a real privilege to be involved with Penoza or Black Widow as you know it!”
The Black Widow is available to view now on channel4.com