Bonnie and Clyde captivated the public as they went on a bloody bank-robbing spree 80 years ago, and Lifetime, History and A&E Network hope the public’s fascination continues as they premiere “Bonnie & Clyde” Sunday and Monday, Dec. 8 and 9.
After History’s surprise huge hit with the “Hatfields & McCoys” miniseries, broadcasters have been looking for another chapter of American history that resonates the same way: familiar but not too familiar.
This four-hour miniseries, starring Emile Hirsch (“Into the Wild”) and Holliday Grainger (“The Borgias”), was in the works before the History hit. It has a cinematic feel and takes a few risks, particularly with showing Clyde’s sixth sense and Bonnie’s hysteria and presenting the story in a leisurely fashion.
“It is a morality story and has some parallels to our modern era,” Hirsch tells Zap2it. “They were almost the original reality TV stars. They were playing out their lives in the media, and that is an interesting parallel.
“I feel like something about the Bonnie and Clyde story will appeal to people for generations and generations,” Hirsch continues. “It is a real love story that is flawed and tragic. As horrible as they were, the one thing that was always consistent, that never changed, was their love for each other.”
The film does a great job of capturing the period, the costumes, cars and feel of the Depression. People may think they know the story well, but the miniseries aims to reveal who they were beyond the bank robberies.
Clyde is shown to have suffered a serious fever as child, and after that he was said to have a sixth sense. He had visions, including one of Bonnie, long before he met her. He first saw Bonnie at her wedding, and even the fact that she was married did not deter Clyde.
Bonnie is given to weeping fits, and only her mom (Holly Hunter) can calm her.
Until she began working on this, Grainger was among those who thought she knew the story well.
“I was very aware of Bonnie and Clyde growing up, in the way you know about Romeo and Juliet and Thelma and Louise,” Grainger says. “It wasn’t until I started researching the part, and I realized how quite short their lives on the road were. It was only two years. It must have been a long two years, constantly moving.”
The miniseries reminds us how they held up small banks for tiny amounts. This being the Depression, people had no sympathy for the banks. But they developed a kinship with Bonnie and Clyde because of a newspaper reporter, P.J. Lane (Elizabeth Reaser, “The Twilight Saga”), who wrote sympathetic stories.
Her reporting drove Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (William Hurt) crazy. He explains that police usually nab the bad guys based on tips from the public, but because of Lane’s stories, no one was turning in Bonnie and Clyde.
Clyde, long a thief, had done time in prison, where he was raped and beaten. He never intended to kill during the robberies; Bonnie was the trigger-happy one.
Bonnie married young and was abandoned by her husband. She had a flair for the dramatic, wrote poetry and desperately wanted to be in the movies.
“She is very intelligent and quite manipulative but very vain and shallow and selfish and single-minded in that she has an aim for her life to get out of certain situations,” Grainger says. “She is almost a fame-hungry reality TV star. She wants to get her name known somehow. She is quite ruthless in that way, but at the same time the part of Bonnie that really came out is just this lost little girl. She was such a mommy’s girl but needs to be loved as much as she is manipulating. She thrives on the love and affection and needy vanity and needs to be recognized by someone.”
Bonnie and Clyde killed nine officers, or “laws” as they were called, and a few civilians in their wake before they died in a hail of bullets on May 23, 1934. Bonnie was 23, Clyde 25.
Despite the bloody robberies and their transient existence, they were in love. And it was this romance that drew Lifetime to the project, says Rob Sharenow, the network’s general manager.
“Our version is the most historically accurate that has ever been told,” he says. “It is an incredible love story. They fall in love at a very dangerous time. There is a lot known about them. All sorts of elements of this story are not familiar to people who think they know the story.”
While most TV movies are shot in under a month, Bruce Beresford (“Tender Mercies”) directed this over 50 days.
“People will see a tragic love story and a real slice of American history,” Sharenow says. “These were desperate times. And for me, the big revelation of the script was really Bonnie and how much she drove the story and the escalation of violence. It was the story of her wanting to be famous, forging this bond with the journalist and wanting to be a star.”
And ultimately, getting what she wanted – for 80 years later, people still know her name.