Saturday 22 October 2016

Television: Noble aims let down by skimping on real story

John Boland

Published 14/06/2015 | 02:30

Helping hand: Christina Noble with children in Vietnam
Helping hand: Christina Noble with children in Vietnam
In a House that Ceased to Be with Christina Noble

Through her children's foundation, Christina Noble has clearly done more for suffering humanity than I ever will - rescuing thousands of the vulnerable innocent in south east Asia from neglect, deprivation, abuse or death.

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And in her personal life she has clearly endured much more than most people - she and her young siblings separated on their mother's death and treated abominably in a variety of Irish orphanages that were run by the Catholic church in collusion with the State.

Indeed, the most affecting parts of Ciarín Scott's In a House that Ceased to Be (RTÉ1) concerned Noble's past and her eventual reunion with her brother and two sisters, even if I frequently felt I was being cowed into submission by her denunciations of what had happened to them.

I also felt infuriated by a documentary approach so woefully careless about factual detail it left unanswered basic questions that constantly occurred to the viewer. We were told, for example, that the reunion in her brother Sean's Texan house was the first time they'd come together in 53 years, but we weren't told why it had taken so long. Could they not locate each other before that? Had none of them ever met since childhood?

How come, too, that Sean ended up in the US while Philomena went to Canada and Kathy to England?

And what were their lives like in those three places? Had they married? Did they have children? So busy was the director at foregrounding the grandstanding Christina that we never found out.

And the questions kept mounting. It took a Google search for me to learn that Christina had been gang-raped while living rough as a teenager in Dublin and that a son she'd had was taken from her for adoption.

I also learned that she'd been married to a violent man in England and had three children with him.

But I learned none of this from the film, and nor was I informed how the schools, medical centres and other institutions that her foundation has set up in Vietnam and Mongolia were run or how many children they cater for.

And although we saw her belting out a song (which she frequently did throughout the film) at a foundation charity ball in Dubai, we weren't told anything about this event - who organised it, who attended it, how much money it raised.

There was a startling incident in a bar (probably in Dublin, though not identified) when a male drinker interrupted Christina during one of her tirades about her past and told her she was a "spoofer" who was talking "a load of rubbish", while another barfly said he recognised her as the woman who "looks after the blacks in Africa".

Their sneering interjections came as vindication to Christina of her feelings about her native city.

"Who wants to be here, really?" she rhetorically asked, though another Google search told me that she has a house in Lucan. But then that was the problem with a film that sent the viewer elsewhere for the most basic of information.

Still, it was a lot more engrossing than Lords and Ladles (RTÉ1), the first in a six-part series that places three celebrity chefs in Irish stately homes and requires them to recreate ancient recipes over the course of an hour. Who comes up with these half-assed ideas?

Birr Castle was the venue chosen for this week's opener, breathless narrator Tara Flynn informing us that the seventh Earl of Rosse was merely the latest member of a dynasty whose contributions to science and technology had "changed the world we live in".

We got to meet the seventh earl and his wife and daughter but not before each of the celebrity chefs had to lift a "cloche" (a dish cover to you and me) in order to find out what role they'd be performing.

"I've to skin a rabbit and gut a pheasant", Catherine Fulvio yelped, while Paul Flynn had to cook the meal (or "rule the kitchen with a rod of iron" in Tara's commentary) and Derry Clarke had to research the history of the place.

So we got lots of historical facts and much huffing and puffing in the kitchen, though after 30 minutes of wondering what I was supposed to be watching and why, I came to the mature conclusion that a further 30 minutes of such twaddle was beyond my endurance.

Instead I had a look at the opening instalment of How to be a Bohemian (BBC4), presented by Victoria Coren Mitchell, whose tartly schoolmarmish hosting of the intellectual quiz show Only Connect I've always found quite diverting.

So what's a Bohemian? "Someone who will never own a lawnmower," opined Stephen Fry.

Or, in the opinion of AA Gill, someone who's "useless, self-indulgent and almost always talentless".

Oh, and with no money, either: "You've got to be poor," Will Self insisted. Well, that rules him out.

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