Sunday 4 December 2016

Television: Yankee airmen in Ireland Trump week's other dramas

John Boland

Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30

Comforting: Aaron Staton as Capt Dreyfuss and Hattie Morahan as Rose in My Mother and Other Strangers
Comforting: Aaron Staton as Capt Dreyfuss and Hattie Morahan as Rose in My Mother and Other Strangers

By the age of 50, George Orwell suggested, most of us get the face we deserve. Perhaps people get the political leaders they deserve, too, though that doesn't make Wednesday morning's presidential outcome in the United States any less scary.

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Thankfully, some nicer Americans than Donald Trump were to be found in the previous evening's My Mother and Other Strangers (RTÉ1), which was set in 1943 on the shores of Lough Neagh and involved a US airforce base adjacent to the fictional village of Moybeg.

Created and scripted by former Horslips frontman Barry Devlin, this first episode of a five-parter was a handsomely filmed and very well-acted pleasure that conveyed a real and unfussy sense of time and place and had a storyline that was reassuringly, indeed comfortingly, old-fashioned in its clarity and simplicity.

This allowed character to come to the fore as the locals, some of them satisfyingly malevolent, found themselves in confrontation with unwelcome intruders from a swaggeringly brave new world across the Atlantic.

Devlin's deft script hardly put a foot wrong, but it was the performances that carried the drama, with a wrenching turn from Corey Cott as the young lieutenant who took an innocent shine to 16-year-old Emma (a sweetly engaging Eileen O'Higgins) and paid the price for it. But it was Hattie Morahan, as Emma's English-born mother Rose, who held it all together. Playing an outsider herself (even though married to the local grocery-bar owner), she managed to convey an air of amused scepticism at the antics of those around her that somehow wasn't at odds with either an unfulfilled emotional core or with the moral steel that was required at the story's end.

Her luminous performance should ensure a devoted following for a series that in its opening episode had considerable impact.

The first episode of The Crown (Netflix) had different virtues, and viewers who opted to binge-watch all 10 episodes of its opening season will already know whether it manages to sustain them. Personally, I prefer to approach such dramas one episode at a time and thus can't yet declare how satisfying this account of the life of the still-reigning British monarch turns out to be.

But it was immediately apparent that the huge money put into this enterprise, which is to run for six 10-episode seasons, has been well spent, with lavish visuals and star performances competing for your attention.

Among the latter, Claire Foy conveys from the outset all the resolve and unknowability that were to become synonymous with the queen's reign, John Lithgow is an arrestingly complex and needy Churchill, and Jared Harris offers a powerfully affecting George VI.

And Peter Morgan's script, while staying carefully clear of downright iconoclasm, has enough acerbity to engage even anti-royalists, though I'm not sure if I'll have the patience to persevere throughout even one season of this Crownton Abbey setup. Apart from anything else, we all know the outcome. Vogue Williams is back with another documentary series and in this week's Vogue Williams: On the Edge (RTÉ2) she talked to various people who weren't happy in their own bodies and decided to do something about it.

I came of age at a time when, as far as I was concerned, people were either straight or gay, and so my knowledge of gender fluidity would fit on the back of a postage stamp. For this reason, Vogue's encounters were an eye-opener - as they seemingly were to the presenter herself, who had always assumed that "penis equals male and pregnancy equals female". Yet here she was at a Gender Odyssey in Seattle, where "I was having all of my preconceptions challenged".

Mine, too, and I felt grateful for Vogue's lively and enquiring presence as she met up with a diverse "community of brave transgender warriors" who were intent on pursuing their personal quests both in Ireland and abroad.

And if, at the end, I remained slightly baffled by some of what I'd been seeing and hearing, you can put that down to my own imaginative failings and not to Vogue's engagingly guileless curiosity on my behalf.

Ten years after Planet Earth comes Planet Earth II (BBC1), once again presented by David Attenborough, who's now a sprightly 90 and who, in the opening sequence, was to be seen flying over the Alps as he marvelled at the world's wonder while worrying about its fragility.

The sequence, though, that has gone viral concerned just-born marine iguanas on an island off the New Zealand coast. Up they came from their birthplace in the sand and tried to join the adult iguanas on the rocks by the seashore.

Waiting for them, though, were hordes of aptly-named racer snakes, who tore after them before throttling and devouring the unfortunates they caught. It was a terrifying sequence, so brilliantly edited that you felt your own heart racing, and you'll find it all over YouTube - in some cases with various irreverent soundtracks added to it.

However, the only heart racing throughout the first instalment of The Airport Up in Knock (UTV Ireland) may have been that of Michael O'Leary, whose Ryanair planes were to be seen in every second shot.

Airport documentaries have frequently featured on television, but this was a lacklustre contribution to the genre. Most of the staff were very pleasant and there appeared to be a genuine sense of camaraderie among them, but no one had anything interesting to say, and this opening half-hour never really got off the ground.

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