As a hybrid genre, the representations in Boardwalk Empire are complex, contradictory, unconventional, conventional and stereotypical, whilst challenge stereotypes. Set in the 1920’s during prohibition, Nucky is a corrupt Republican politician and gangster, who has risen to his position through bribery, corruption, and murder. The series begins as prohibition begins, with Nucky toasting the government who ban alcohol; “…to those beautiful ignorant bastards in Washington”.
As a gangster, Nucky knows he can make millions by supplying illegal alcohol to the public and is portrayed as a businessman, making money for all the ‘respectable’ local dignitaries that sit around his table; the chief of police (his brother Ely), the mayor, the head of the port authority, local Politicians, etc. He sees an opportunity through the prohibition to increase his fortune. There is a lot of juxtapositioning in the first episode to show us the various sides of Nucky, as a violent alcohol heist is followed by Nucky addressing a Ladies’ Temperance Society.
Nucky weaves a myth of his own childhood of poverty, catching rats for his family to eat, to the gasps of the audience. Embodying the American Dream, Nucky has ‘risen’ from very humble beginnings to be top man in the state, he is merely seeking the ‘women’s vote’ for his Political re-election and often shows their ignorance of world politics proves them an easy mark for manipulation to gain full power over the Atlantic City. Nucky is a complex protagonist and anti-hero who is both despicable and admirable.
He is obviously very clever, charming, funny, calculating, ruthless, and a skilful businessman and gangster. He juggles a legal political life with his illegal prohibition life, dealing with a constant flurry of unexpected problems as they arise. He manipulates people in ways that should make audiences hate him but Steve Buscemi (and the writers) manages to portray him as a complex character that seeks more than just money. The low camera angles throughout help suggesting Nucky is a very powerful figure in the drama.
The power wield of woman in Boardwalk Empire is largely associated with sex, and furthermore this power of woman is represented through the male characters using it against eachother. For example Gillian Darmody, mother of gangster: Jimmy Darmody and a topless dancer in the city, plays a pivotal role when she sleeps with a rival gangster: Luciano in order to detain him until he can be collected and dealt with. Her sexual power is turned to the gangsters own advantage. Lucy Daziger is another key representation of sexual power and woman in Boardwalk Empire.
She is the beautiful mol and mistress of Nucky who is often a negative representation of woman – dismissed constantly in favour of Nucky’s political and illegal life. She is objectified by him and others and is kept at his beck and call. During an evening at dinner with others, Lucy insists she has a brain but is quietened by Nucky, and we see Lucy has no place for opinion at the dinner with the Commodore in terms of politics. When Nucky rejects Lucy, he favours Margaret, because she is intelligent and sees her more as an equal for example at the same dinner Margaret expresses deep knowledge and understanding of politics.
Lucy is extremely jealous of Margaret as Nucky clearly shows more affection for her, which is unconventional as Lucy is the beautiful mistress, often seeming powerful, Margaret is the opposite.. Margaret is the other key representation in the drama as she challenges the notion of ‘the little woman’ throughout the series. An Irish immigrant, clever, brave, and moral (but racked by guilt), her motives are often those of a protective Mother. Initially established as naive and unsophisticated, particularly by her dowdy dress codes i. colour codes are very dull: browns, greens, her deferential body-language, and her thick Irish accent, she is represented as a weak, ordinary and poor woman. For example her dress codes of poor clothing often lacking in quality, and colour. Margaret grows in confidence throughout the seasons, as her and Nucky begin a relationship. An Irish immigrant she is wise beyond her years, Margaret quickly becomes versed in the dealings of her “husband” and becomes a supportive and protective ‘wife’ for his chaotic life.
In her previous marriage Margaret was represented in a weak and negative way enduring endless beatings from her husband Hans. An incident of abuse had caused Margaret to miscarry her 4th child, and so Nucky ordered to have Hans murdered. Margaret knows of this but chooses to remain silent for the benefit of herself and her kids, later racked with Catholic guilt over the murder, their life, and their source of income. Nucky proceeds to live with her and her children, becoming a sensitive father figure to the kids, and a loving ‘husband’ to her.