independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Seoige's sorrows, Luas tales and a misfiring new BBC comedy

The first instalment of Great Irish Journeys (RTÉ One) gave presenter Gráinne Seoige lots of opportunities to look crestfallen as she travelled the country contemplating our time-honoured status as Most Oppressed People Ever.

Her companion on the pilgrimage was Scottish man of letters Thomas Carlyle, dead for the past 122 years but still capable of causing Gráinne a deep sorrow that stemmed from his contempt for the famine-stricken people he encountered when he toured here with Charles Gavan Duffy in 1849.

Gráinne, who seemed not to have heard of the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic Carlyle before embarking on her trip, couldn't get over his scorn for the country – indeed, she confessed that she found his lack of common humanity to be quite "gobsmacking".

By contrast, Gráinne's humanity was evident in every shot, her furrowed brow and mournful expression to the fore as she found herself continuously confronted by the Calvinist's haughty indifference to what he saw around him. "I was right glad to get away," he wrote of a mass family burial in a Kilkenny workhouse, causing Gráinne to reflect on the ghastly conditions that led to these deaths. "I don't like to see children suffer," she revealed. "I find it very hard as a mother to process."

This led her to get quite stroppy about Carlyle, deeming him to be someone who "saw everything and noticed nothing", not to mention "a Scotsman who couldn't see beyond his own prejudice". These were severe words from someone whose recent television career has mainly required her to utter feelgood inanities to pop wannabes, but clearly Carlyle had driven her to make them.

Indeed, "after ploughing through all 263 pages of his book" (Reminiscences of My Irish Journey in 1849), she was satisfied that she had "a fair measure" of the man. However, she didn't say whether she'd also read his account of The French Revolution or his musings on Heroes and Hero Worship, which provide quite another measure of the man.

I learned from Luas: A Tale of Two Trams (RTÉ One) that 75pc of the 1,000 "anti-social incidents" recorded last year by the transport network's security department occurred on the red line that runs from the Point to Tallaght and beyond. Does that mean that when the red and green lines are finally linked up four years hence, the demure middle-class suburbs of south Dublin will become a social war zone, with pitched battles between the haves and the have-nots at the affluent Dundrum Centre?

One young commuter, who used both lines daily on his way to and from work, summed up the difference between the two – when he travelled on the red line he avoided potentially dangerous eye contact by standing at the doors with his back to the carriage, whereas on the non-threatening green line he felt much more relaxed, surrounded by "people reading their newspapers on their iPads".

Maire Kearney's sprightly and engaging film offered lots of such intriguing soundbites as well as conveying quite a bit of information, too – about such matters as the powers (very limited) available to security staff, the racism encountered by immigrant personnel and the preference of many drivers and ticket inspectors for the red line, which is deemed to be a more "exciting" experience than its relatively staid green counterpart.

In The Murder Trial (Channel 4), viewers got a chance to see what actually happens in a court case, the first time that such access has been given to television cameras in these islands, though long a commonplace occurrence in the United States.

Oh, those misspent afternoons in the company of OJ Simpson, Johnnie Cochran and Marcia Clark.

The case here involved the Edinburgh retrial of Nat Fraser, whose 2003 conviction for the murder of his wife, Arlene, had been declared "unsound" in 2011.

The evidence, both in the original trial and in this successor, was entirely circumstantial, as Arlene's body was never found and her husband's alibi proved to be watertight. Thus, the prosecution's case was that he arranged his wife's killing.

Nick Holt's intriguing film reduced a trial that lasted for weeks to two hours, a good deal of it comprising interviews conducted elsewhere with family members, including 18-year-old daughter Natalie, who fervently believed in her father's innocence, even when – as it transpired – he was convicted all over again.

Unlike their fictional television counterparts, both counsels were unfussy and unshowy when questioning witnesses, and the film deftly suggested the tedium inherent in a lengthy trial while never being tedious itself – helped by the charismatic, if silent, presence of the accused, whose facial reactions, whether frowning or amused, were all the more fascinating for being quite inscrutable.

I see that the BBC has vetoed a second season of Ben Elton's lamentable sitcom The Wright Way, yet it has mysteriously okayed a second season of Count Arthur Strong (BBC Two), co-written by Steve Delaney and Graham Linehan, who also directs.

Delaney himself plays the title character, an old comedian who's prone both to pratfalls and verbal diarrhoea and is plainly meant to be a loveable eccentric, even though his behaviour makes no psychological or dramatic sense.

The few visual gags are gruesomely laboured, while the supposed badinage is a bore. What was Linehan thinking of?

Irish Independent

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