Angels in America is a 2003 American HBO miniseries directed by Mike Nichols and based on the play by the same name written by Tony Kushner. Set in 1985, the film revolves around six New Yorkers whose lives intersect. At its core, it has the fantastical story of Prior Walter, a gay man living with AIDS who is visited by an angel. The film explores a wide variety of themes, including Reagan era politics, the spreading AIDS epidemic, and a rapidly changing social and political climate.
HBO broadcast the film in various formats: two 3-hour chunks that correspond to Millennium Approaches and "Perestroika", as well as six 1-hour "chapters" that roughly correspond to an act or two of each of these plays; the first three chapters ("Bad News," "In Vitro," and "The Messenger") were initially broadcast on December 7, 2003, to international acclaim, with the final three chapters ("Stop Moving!" "Beyond Nelly," and "Heaven, I'm in Heaven") following.
Angels in America was the most-watched made-for-cable film in 2003, garnering much critical acclaim and multiple Golden Globe and Emmy awards, among other numerous accolades. In 2006, The Seattle Times listed the series amongst "Best of the filmed AIDS portrayals" on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of AIDS.
It is 1985, Ronald Reagan is in the White House, and AIDS is causing mass death in the Americas. In Manhattan, Prior Walter tells Louis, his lover of four years, that he has AIDS; Louis, unable to handle it, leaves him. As disease and loneliness ravage Prior, guilt invades Louis. Joe Pitt, a Mormon and Republican attorney, is pushed by right-wing fixer Roy Cohn toward a job at the United States Department of Justice. Both Pitt and Cohn are in the closet: Pitt out of shame and religious turmoil, Cohn to preserve his power and image. Pitt's wife Harper is strung out on Valium, causing her to hallucinate constantly (sometimes jointly with Prior during his fever dreams) and she longs to escape from her sexless marriage. An angel with ulterior motives commands Prior to become a prophet.
Pitt's mother and Belize, a close friend and drag queen, help Prior choose. Joe leaves his wife and goes to live with Louis but the relationship doesn't work out due to ideological differences. Roy is diagnosed with AIDS early on and as his life comes to a close he is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. As the film continues, these lost souls come together to create bonds of love, loss, and loneliness and in the end, discover forgiveness and overcome abandonment.Al Pacino as Roy CohnMeryl Streep as Hannah Pitt / Ethel Rosenberg / The Rabbi / The Angel AustraliaPatrick Wilson as Joe PittMary-Louise Parker as Harper PittEmma Thompson as Nurse Emily / Homeless woman / The Angel AmericaJustin Kirk as Prior Walter / Leatherman in parkJeffrey Wright as Mr. Lies / Norman "Belize" Ariaga / Homeless man / The Angel EuropaBen Shenkman as Louis Ironson / The Angel OceaniaJames Cromwell as Henry, Roy's doctorMichael Gambon as Prior Walter Ancestor No. 1Simon Callow as Prior Walter Ancestor No. 2
The soundtrack of the series by Thomas Newman was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
Cary Brokaw, executive producer of the series, worked for over ten years to bring the 1991 stage production to television, having first read it in 1989, before its first production. In 1993, Al Pacino committed to playing the role of Roy Cohn. In the meantime, a number of directors, including Robert Altman, were part of the project. Altman worked on the project in 1993 and 1994, before budget constraints forced him to move out, as few studios could risk producing two successive 150-minute movies at the cost of $40 million. Subsequently, Kushner tried squeezing the play into a feature film, at which he eventually failed, realizing there was "literally too much plot," and settling for the TV miniseries format. While Kushner continued adapting the play until the late 1990s, HBO Films stepped in as producer, allocating a budget of $60 million.
Brokaw gave Mike Nichols the script while he was working with him on Wit (2001) starring Emma Thompson, who also co-adapted the play of the same title. The principal cast, including Meryl Streep, Pacino, and Thompson, having recently worked with Nichols, was immediately assembled by him. Jeffrey Wright was the only original cast member to appear in the stage version, having won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor for his stage performance. The shooting started in May 2002, and after a 137-day schedule, ended in January 2003. Filming was done primarily at Kaufman Astoria Studios, New York City, with important scenes at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. The Heaven sequence was shot at Hadrian's Villa, the Roman archaeological complex at Tivoli, Italy, dating early 2nd century.
Special effects in the series were by Richard Edlund (Star Wars trilogy), who created the two important Angel visitation sequences, as well as the opening sequence wherein the angel at the Bethesda Fountain opens its eyes in the end, signifying her "coming to life".
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the series a 90% 'fresh' rating based on 20 reviews, with an average rating of 10/10. The critical consensus reads "In Angels of America, writer Tony Kushner and director Mike Nichols imaginatively and artistically deliver heavy, vital subject matter, colorfully imparted by a stellar cast." The New York Times wrote that "Mike Nichols's television version is a work of art in itself." According to a Boston Globe review, "director Mike Nichols, and a magnificent cast led by Meryl Streep have pulled a spellbinding and revelatory TV movie out of the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning work" and that he "managed to make "Angels in America" thrive onscreen..."Golden Globe AwardsBest Mini-Series or Motion Picture made for TelevisionBest Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture made for Television - Al PacinoBest Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture made for Television - Meryl StreepBest Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture made for Television - Jeffrey WrightBest Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture made for Television - Mary-Louise ParkerEmmy Awards
In 2004, Angels in America broke the record previously held by Roots for the most Emmys awarded to a program in a single year by winning 11 awards from 21 nominations. The record was broken four years later by John Adams.
WonOutstanding MiniseriesOutstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Mike Nichols)Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie (Al Pacino)Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie (Meryl Streep)Outstanding Supporting Actor – Miniseries or a Movie (Jeffrey Wright)Outstanding Supporting Actress - Miniseries or a Movie (Mary-Louise Parker)Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a SpecialOutstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Part I & II)Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Non-Prosthetic)Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie (Part II)Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special (Tony Kushner)
NominatedOutstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or a Movie - Emma ThompsonOutstanding Supporting Actor – Miniseries or a MoviePatrick WilsonBen ShenkmanJustin KirkOutstanding Main Title DesignOutstanding Special Visual Effects - Miniseries or a MovieOutstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Part I)Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or Movie (Part II)Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Part II)Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Part I & II)OtherBroadcast Film Critics - Best Picture Made for TelevisionDirectors Guild of America (DGA) - Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television (Mike Nichols)GLAAD Media Awards - Best Miniseries or Film Made for TVGrammy Awards - Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media (Thomas Newman)National Board of Review - Best Film Made for Cable TVProducers Guild of America (PGA) - Producer of the Year Award in Longform (Mike Nichols, Cary Brokaw, Celia D. Costas and Michael Haley)Satellite Awards:Best Actress — Miniseries or Film Made for TV (Meryl Streep)Best MiniseriesBest Supporting Actor - (Mini)Series or Film Made for TV (Justin Kirk)Best Actor — Miniseries or TV Film (Al Pacino)Best Supporting Actor - (Mini)Series or Film Made for TV(Patrick Wilson)Best Supporting Actor - (Mini)Series or Film Made for TV (Jeffrey Wright)Best Supporting Actress - (Mini)Series or Film Made for TV (Mary-Louise Parker)Best Supporting Actress - (Mini)Series or Film Made for TV (Emma Thompson)Screen Actors Guild (SAG):Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie: Al Pacino (won)Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie: Meryl Streep (won)Best Actor — Miniseries or Film Made for TV (Justin Kirk)Best Actor — Miniseries or Film Made for TV (Jeffrey Wright)Best Actress — Miniseries or Film Made for TV (Mary-Louise Parker)Best Actress — Miniseries or Film Made for TV (Emma Thompson)