Saturday 1 October 2016

Seven reasons why you should be tuning into RTE's new 1916 drama series The Rebellion

Published 04/01/2016 | 07:53

'Rebellion' has already been picked up by Sundance TV, which was founded by Robert Redford
'Rebellion' has already been picked up by Sundance TV, which was founded by Robert Redford

It's Irish history, but not as we know it. Commencing last night, Rebellion, RTE's big budget contribution to the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, applies an agreeably soapy gloss to the upheavals that led to independence. There is panic and gunsmoke on the streets of Dublin but lots of Downton Abbey-grade melodrama too. Indeed, the five-part series may be enjoyed strictly at the level of period romp – a costumed escapade with bullets pinging in the background. Here are seven reasons to tune in tonight. 

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There is panic and gunsmoke on the streets of Dublin but lots of Downton Abbey-grade melodrama too. Indeed, the five-part series may be enjoyed strictly at the level of period romp – a costumed escapade with bullets pinging in the background. Here are seven reasons to tune in.

1: It Has Proper Production Values

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With a $6 million budget, Rebellion is by a very great distance the most expensive Irish drama ever. You can see it on the screen, too, as Edwardian Dublin is conjured in uncanny detail. Nelson's Pillar still stands watch over today's O'Connell Street while a British gunboat parked opposite the Custom House glimmers menacingly. In episode one, there's a sense of visiting an Ireland soon to be swept from existence, an Imperial outpost where toffs and oiks muddle along in often uneasy co-dependence. 
 

2: Politics Is On The Back Burner

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The viewer is given to understand Ireland is on the cusp of momentous change. But Rebellion is canny enough not to clang us over the head with this fact. Instead, the under-the-surface turmoil soon to erupt with the Rising is presented as exactly that – an ominous rumbling that most people have accepted as part of the background noise of daily life. They live, they love, they squeeze into their corsets, more concerned with the drudgery of the day-to-day than the future of Ireland. 
 

3: Women Are In The Foreground

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We're forever told that women have been written out of this pivotal epoch. If that is the case, Rebellion works hard at restoring the balance. The three central characters are female and we see Dublin through their eyes: a place where men believe they were the ones who ought to call the shots, women relegated to the margins, just because. 
 

4: It's A Period Drama

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Cleverly, writer Colin Teevan has conceived Rebellion as a period soap in the first instance, a sweeping historical epic second. Edwardian Dublin comes off as a shabby cousin-once-removed to the halcyon era evoked by Downton Abbey. There are no kindly Granthams here, big-heartedly looking after "their" subjects. Just a ruling elite which assumes its position of privilege carved in granite. As a snapshot of the final days of British hegemony, it's fascinating. 
 

5: There WILL be Blood, Eventually

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Anyone tuning in expecting to be instantly plunged into the chaos and, yes, the excitement of The Rising itself may feel short-changed. Rather than kicking off with James Connolly, Padraig Pearse, Dev, Michael Collins et al bunkered down in the GPO and sundry smoking locales across the city, the opening scene is of three young ladies performing Gilbert and Sullivan. However, we're promised that future episodes will conjure the tumult of the Rising in gritty detail.

6: The Dialogue is Better Than You Expect

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We've all had that moment watching Irish drama when it dawns on us that the characters aren't speaking like real people but in a sort of heightened movie-talk, with the occasional local idiom crowbarred clunkily in. Happily, there are no reasons to cringe here: following from last year's Charlie, his surprisingly polished Haughey biopic, Teevan shows he has a decent grasp of how Irish people interact in the real word. His script doesn't sing exactly. But it doesn't fall flat either.

7 : It's Nuanced– But Not Hectoring

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The swirling complexities of the struggle for independence are acknowledged and it is clear that not everyone was invested in the campaign to end, or even significantly diminish, British rule. But while Rebellion does not place the leaders of the Rising on a pedestal nor does it condemn them, as is often the fashion. Instead, the viewer is presented with the facts and left to make up their own mind. Imagine that.

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