Angels in America (miniseries)

Angels in America is a 2003 American HBO miniseries directed by Mike Nichols and based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play of the same name by Tony Kushner. Set in 1985, the film revolves around six New Yorkers whose lives intersect. At its core, it is 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.[1]

Angels in America
DVD cover
Written byTony Kushner
Directed byMike Nichols
StarringAl Pacino
Meryl Streep
Patrick Wilson
Mary-Louise Parker
Emma Thompson
Justin Kirk
Jeffrey Wright
Ben Shenkman
Theme music composerThomas Newman
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes6
Producer(s)Celia D. Costas
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Editor(s)John Bloom
Antonia Van Drimmelen
Running time352 minutes
Budget$60 million
Original networkHBO
Original releaseDecember 7 
December 14, 2003
External links

HBO broadcast the film in various formats: two 3-hour chunks that correspond to Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, further divided into 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, and earned much critical acclaim and numerous accolades: at the 56th Primetime Emmy Awards, it became the first (and currently only) program in Emmy history to win in every major eligible category, and won all four acting categories. It also won in all five eligible categories at the 61st Golden Globe Awards. In 2006, The Seattle Times listed the series among "Best of the filmed AIDS portrayals" on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of AIDS.[2]


Millennium Approaches

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 US 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.


Prior is helped in his decision by Joe’s mother, Hannah, and Belize, a close friend and drag queen. Joe leaves his wife and goes to live with Louis, but the relationship does not work out because of 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, the lost souls come together to create bonds of love, loss, and loneliness and, in the end, discover forgiveness and overcome abandonment.[3][4]



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.[5]


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.[6]

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. Though Ben Shenkman had previously portrayed Louis in the San Francisco A.C.T.'s production (as well as portraying Roy Cohn in the NYU graduate acting program's workshop of Perestroika prior to its Broadway opening),[7] Jeffrey Wright was the only original cast member to appear in the Broadway version, having won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor for his stage performance.[8] 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".[6]

Critical reception

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the series a 92% "Certified Fresh" rating based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 9.5/10. 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."[9] The New York Times wrote that "Mike Nichols's television version is a work of art in itself."[10] 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..."[11]

Awards and nominations

Golden Globe Awards

Year Category Nominee(s) Result
2004 Best Miniseries or Motion Picture – Television Angels in America Won
Best Actor – Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Al Pacino Won
Best Actress – Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Meryl Streep Won
Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Mary-Louise Parker Won
Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television Jeffrey Wright Won
Ben Shenkman Nominated
Patrick Wilson Nominated

Emmy Awards (Primetime)

Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2004 Outstanding Limited Series Angels in America Won
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Television Movie or Dramatic Special Mike Nichols Won
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Television Movie or Dramatic Special Tony Kushner Won
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Television Movie Al Pacino Won
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Television Movie Meryl Streep Won
Emma Thompson Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Television Movie Mary-Louise Parker Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Television Movie Jeffrey Wright Won
Justin Kirk Nominated
Ben Shenkman Nominated
Patrick Wilson Nominated
2004 Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series, Television Movie or Special Stuart Wurtzel, John Kasarda, George DeTitta Jr. (for Part I & II) Won
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Television Movie Stephen Goldblatt (for Part II) Nominated
Outstanding Main Title Design Randall Balsmeyer, J. John Corbett, Jim Rider, Amit Sethi Nominated
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series, Television Movie or Special John Bloom and Antonia Van Drimmelen (for Part I) Nominated
Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Television Movie Lee Dichter, Ron Bochar and James Sabat (for Part II) Won
Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series, Television Movie or Special Juliet Taylor and Ellen Lewis Won
Outstanding Costumes for a Limited Series, Television Movie or Special Ann Roth, Michelle Matland and Donna Maloney (forPart II) Nominated
Outstanding Makeup for a Limited Series, Television Movie or Special (Non-Prosthetic) J. Roy Helland, Joseph A. Campayno, John Caglione Jr., Kelly Gleason Won
Outstanding Hairstyling for a Limited Series or Television Movie David Brian Brown, Jasen Joseph Sica and Angel De Angelis (for Part I & II) Nominated
Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Limited Series or Television Movie Richard Edlund, Ron Simonson, Liz Ralston, Stefano Trivelli, Don Greenberg, Lawrence Littleton, Michele Moen, Steven Kirshoff, Gregory Jein Nominated

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.

Screen Actors Guild

Year Category Nominee(s) Result
2004 Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Al Pacino Won
Justin Kirk Nominated
Jeffrey Wright Nominated
Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Movie Meryl Streep Won
Mary-Louise Parker Nominated
Emma Thompson Nominated

Television Critics Association

Year Category Nominee(s) Result
2004 Program of the Year Angels in America Won
Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials Won
Individual Achievement in Drama Al Pacino Nominated



  1. Angels in America:Overview The New York Times
  2. An AIDS anniversary: 25 years in the arts Archived June 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Seattle Times, June 25, 2006.
  3. Part one Film4
  4. Part two Film4.
  5. "Thomas Newman". Grammy. Archived from the original on 8 March 2019.
  6. Edgerton, Gary Richard; Jeffrey P. Jones (2008). "10. Angels in America". The essential HBO reader. University Press of Kentucky. p. 136. ISBN 0-8131-2452-2.
  7. Buckley, Michael (26 Nov 2003). "STAGE TO SCREENS: HBO's "Angels in America" Plus a Chat with "Angels" Co-star Ben Shenkman". Playbill. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  8. Trivia IMDb
  9. "Angels in America". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 21, 2014.
  10. Critics Choice:Movies by Anita Gates, The New York Times, April 17, 2005.
  11. TELEVISION REVIEW: HBO infuses `Angels' with new life Nichols, cast triumph in inspiring production By Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe Staff, 12/5/2003.

Further reading

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