Tuesday 6 December 2016

Television: London calling - well, for a charmed circle anyway

John Boland

Published 18/10/2015 | 02:30

Streets paved with gold? Maia Dunphy on the Thames as RTE documents her attempt to break London.
Streets paved with gold? Maia Dunphy on the Thames as RTE documents her attempt to break London.
Stellan Skaarsgaard as John River

Last week Maïa Dunphy fretted about having her first baby ("What if dyeing my hair was harming him? What if the odd glass of wine was hurting his developing brain?"), and, having resolved such matters, she took her pregnant self off to England's capital this week to fret about whether she could make a career there.

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"Was I tough enough", she asked at the outset of Maïa Dunphy's Truth About Breaking London (RTÉ2), "to start over in one of the most competitive cities on earth? Was I able for the bruising slog of reinventing myself in a tough town?"

At which point, and while acknowledging that women shouldn't be defined by their spousal relationships, I couldn't help muttering: Hold on there, your husband is Johnny Vegas and surely marriage to one of England's best-known comedians separates you just a teensy bit from the majority of Irish people who are trying to make it in London.

Most of these emigrants (and 18,000 have relocated to the UK in the last 12 months, she told us) are like emigrants anywhere who are struggling to make a living in unglamorous jobs, if they can find them, but Maïa chose to focus on a charmed minority who are fashioning careers in showbiz, fashion and lifestyle.

Thus, she chatted to model/musician Nadia Forde, musician and club promoter James O'Neill, model/broadcaster Michelle Doherty, television and film producer Zoe Rocha, Love/Hate actress Caoilfhionn Dunne, fashion boss Frieda Gormley and the head chef of a trendy restaurant.

So how about the anonymous Irish and the forgotten Irish who find London as cold and unforgiving as any big city? I'm afraid that the relentlessly chirpy Maïa didn't seem to give them a moment's thought as she was too busy worrying that "breaking London was going to be even tougher than I imagined". But, shure, Johnny's there, and that must count for something.

At the end, if incidentally, this vacuous film did offer some arresting observations from Graham Linehan, who now thinks of England as his home. RTÉ, he told Maïa, never had the chance to turn down Father Ted as it was never offered to them in the first place, and anyway "they never would have done it - they're so conservative, even now".

Indeed, apart from RTÉ's "incredible" football punditry, "the rest of it is just completely inert". And he instanced the Late Late Show: "My God, it's just extraordinary how archaic and stuck in the 1950s that programme is. It's like no time has passed". I'd love to hear what he thinks of the Ray D'Arcy Show.

Meanwhile, Father Ted was ranked sixth best in the poll on which Britain's Best Loved Sitcoms (Channel 4) was based, with Mrs Brown's Boys in 10th place, The IT Crowd in 26th and Black Books in 43rd. A good Irish showing, though the top five spots predictably went to Porridge, One Foot in the Grave, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and (in top place) Only Fools and Horses. My only surprise was that The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin didn't even make it into the top 50. Yes, it has dated but it was peerless in its time and Leonard Rossiter was sublime.

Death of a Son: The killing of Michael Dwyer (RTÉ1) concerned the shooting dead by Bolivian security forces of a 24-year-old Irishman in the town of Santa Cruz in 2009.

To this day, no one quite knows exactly what he was doing there or why the Bolivian authorities claimed he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate president Eva Gonzales, but the film followed his mother Caroline as she visited the country with one of her daughters and made a public complaint about her son's killing.She was impressively articulate and composed throughout this absorbing, troubling and arrestingly-shot film, even if at the end the viewer knew little more about the circumstances of Michael's death and the reason for his killing than at the outset.

TV3's Disclosure series has set itself a wide brief. Beginning with the dreadful murder of Karen Buckley in Glasgow last April, it then chronicled the 2012 Torquay slaughter of Elber Twomey's family by a suicidal driver, and this week it moved from personal tragedy to global concerns.

Subtitled 'Holy War: What Are They Fighting For?', Conor ­Tiernan's film sought to probe the reasons behind the "international web of violence" that's being ­perpetrated by Islamic extremists and to discover whether anyone, including people living in Ireland, can feel safe from terrorist attack.

The most striking interviewee here was Sam Najjair, grandson of Abbey actors Geoffrey Golden and Maire ni Dhomhnaill, who left Dublin to become a sniper in Libya and Syria - not, he insisted, as a jihadist but as a freedom fighter against the repression of both regimes. Since then, he said, his "just war" had been "tainted by all these extreme elements".

However, the Irish-based Islamic leaders interviewed for the film were of the opinion that relations with the Muslim community are so good here that such extremists, whom they condemned, were unlikely to target this country.

I should have felt reassured. The film tried to cram in too much history and raised too many questions that remained unanswered, but it was engrossing.

He can see dead people, but  so what?

BBC1's new crime drama, River, began strikingly, as middle-aged detective John River bantered with younger detective Jackie while driving down a London street. Then he spotted a parked car he thought he recognised and pursued its driver, who ran up through a block of flats before falling to his death.

So why didn't Jackie assist her colleague in chasing the guy? Well, you see, Jackie was shot dead a few weeks earlier and now only lived in the fantasies of her grieving partner, to whom the ghosts of other murder victims also regularly appear.

If you think that's outlandish, how about the fact that River is Swedish and so you immediately wondered why he was a copper in London and why that oddity went both unmentioned and unexplained.

Anyway, what you've got in this series is Wallander meets The Sixth Sense, with Stellan Skaarsgaard as the doomy and dour hero and with Nicola Walker as the sassy spectre who haunts his dreams.

The creator/screenwriter is Abi Morgan, who has scripted such movies as Shame, The Iron Lady and the current Suffragette and also dreamt up the TV drama The Hours, and some English reviewers of this latest offering have marvelled at her supposedly high-concept take on the conventional crime-serial genre. Personally, I thought the whole thing codswallop, and funereally paced codswallop at that, and I much prefer Beck (BBC4), about which I was unfairly dismissive when it first aired a few weeks ago.

This, too, has a middle-aged Swedish detective, but in Peter Haber's unfussy playing he's a more interesting and more congenial man as he sets about detecting the crimes with which he's confronted.

The star turn here, though, is Mikael Persbrandt as Beck's irascible and sardonic colleague Larsson, who commands the screen so effortlessly, even when he's doing nothing, that you can't take your eyes off him. Indeed, why he's not as internationally known as some of his Scandinavian counterparts is a mystery worthy of Beck's unravelling.

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