Any remembrance that culminates in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is going to raise goose bumps.
Still, it’s hard to watch PBS’s “The March,” airing the night before the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, without wishing for a more ambitious and provocative testament to that transformative event.
Directed by John Akomfrah, narrated by Denzel Washington and with a producing team that includes Robert Redford and Gina Belafonte, “The March” offers an efficient primer on the events building up to Aug. 28, 1963, when more than 250,000 Americans gathered on the National Mall running from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial to demand racial equality.
“The March” is as finely detailed as a one-hour chronicle can be, with appropriate attention paid to such crucial organizers as Jack O’Dell, John Lewis and the remarkable Bayard Rustin (“gay, Red and black,” by one description).
Enraged by the jackboot segregationist tactics of Birmingham, Alabama, police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor, and increasingly impatient with the Kennedy administration’s lackluster civil-rights record, King lent his estimable support to calls for a massive protest march.
“We are determined to be free in ’63,” he said.
John F. Kennedy, afraid that any violence would turn public opinion and Congress against civil-rights legislation, privately demanded that King fire two organizers accused by the FBI of Communist leanings; King acquiesced on one.
Though the presence of celebrities at the march (Harry Belafonte cajoled everyone from Marlon Brando to Charlton Heston) lent crucial promotional wattage, “The March” might better have lessened its own star-gazing.
Precious time handed to Oprah Winfrey, who was nine in 1963, could have been used to address the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to eviscerate the march’s most immediate achievement: passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In an epilogue, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the bill, ending the film but not the story.
“The March” airs Tuesday, Aug. 27 on PBS at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
High body counts have their rewards, at least for long-running dramas like HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”
So long, Bobby Cannavale; hello, Jeffrey Wright.
The excellent new Season 4 episodes waste no time mourning Cannavale or the tiresome jerk of a villain whose murder capped last year’s dismal, convoluted season.
Wright joins the Prohibition-era crime drama as the marvelously named Dr. Valentin Narcisse, a Harlem-based Trinidadian drug lord with a mellifluous voice and no patience for slackers of any color.
Narcisse arrives on the Atlantic City mob scene ruled by Steve Buscemi’s crime lord Nucky Thompson, adding further depth to a series that’s never shied from racial issues.
Coolly elucidating the differences between black (“Libyan”) and white (“Nordic”), Narcisse resents the latter and disdains all but the most successful of the former. His revulsion at “mixing” provides the series with one of its most chilling scenes in memory.
Wright is note-perfect, a standout among the other fine newcomers, including Ron Livingston, Patricia Arquette, Eric Ladin as a young J. Edgar Hoover, and Brian Geraghty as an FBI pretty boy who might not be as wholesome as he seems.
Along with the fresh faces, Season 4 boosts screen time for Anthony Laciura (as Nucky’s painfully loyal factotum Edward), and Stephen Graham, whose menacing, increasingly loose-hinged Al Capone ranks among TV’s best performances.
“Boardwalk Empire” returns Sunday, Sept. 8 on HBO at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: *****
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