Friday 21 October 2016

Television review: The girls of '16, the boys of '66

* Rebellion (RTE1)4x4
* The Boys of '66 (Sky Sports)

Published 11/01/2016 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim cogan
Illustration: Jim cogan

We are conditioned by our history to such an extent, it can blind us entirely to the realities of the present day - and that's just in the area of TV drama.

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Even after Love/Hate, in the early stages of any RTE production there is still a need to put the viewer at ease in some way, to take the edge off these anxieties which we hardly even know we have any more - but of course we do.

And when the troubled history of RTE drama combines with the troubled history of Ireland, indeed with one of the most troubled parts of that history - the Rising - there is a need to administer the creative equivalent of Valium to get us through those difficult opening exchanges.

With Rebellion, that job was done so skilfully, you didn't even realise they were doing it. Indeed, it wasn't until the closing credits started to roll, that you realised you'd been watching anything unusual.

But there you were, with the first episode watched, in which a lot of things had been happening, and it seemed in the best possible way, as if very little had been happening at all.

It was so well-paced, apparently so confident in its ability to tell the story, it just rolled along without making us nervous.

In fact, it was such a self-assured performance all round, they even allowed themselves the luxury of throwing a bit of a scare into us early doors by having a character say that he would "give you two a chance to catch up".

"Catch up"... there was no catching up in 1916, we said to ourselves, in fact there wasn't much catching up in Ireland at any time until about 2003.

But we let it go, because we have known worse things in life. In darker times, at that moment we would have heard the ominous sound of that ancient voice telling us to "stop relaxing...stop relaxing...stop relaxing", but this time we were already just too relaxed by everything we were seeing, to let it get us down.

Maybe it was just the women. Probably the biggest creative decision in the making of Rebellion, was to have women in it, not just as handmaidens of the delirious fellows making magnificent speeches about Ireland and her destiny, but effectively as the main characters.

By that move alone, they avoided about a thousand cliches before they even started. And in the fullness of time we may see this series as a significant moment in itself, in our history - a hundred years after 1916, we realised beyond any doubt that we could now make a TV costume drama as good as anything the English have ever done.

Better, even.


England itself is looking back at a landmark which also has considerable resonance for many Irish people - the 1966 World Cup.

In The Boys of 66, Martin Tyler the Sky commentator who was actually at Wembley for the 1966 final, presented a pleasant enough programme of reminiscences which tended to avoid the great questions.

Yes there was tremendous sadness in the fact that Jimmy Greaves got injured and couldn't play in the latter stages. But perhaps this 50th anniversary should be seen as an opportunity for England to ask itself a few questions which are even more important than the issue of Greavsie, and whether the final would ever have gone to extra time if he'd been there to stick a few past the Germans during the 90 minutes.

Indeed, it was Greavsie himself who made a singular effort to put '66 in some broader perspective, stating that "we were men of our time." In fact, he said it twice, perhaps hoping someone would take him up on it, and start a debate about England and why its footballers are no longer men of their time. Unless it is a bad time, which is being had by all.

England in general might ask itself where the old confidence has gone, how Paddy can be making lavish TV dramas while the BBC doesn't even have the heart to keep its rights to the Open golf.

But 1966 is a matter for us too, and how we built on that victory to make English football a source of so much everyday enjoyment. I look forward to a year of celebrations of this crucial anniversary.

Sunday Indo Living

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