Sunday 23 October 2016

Brave rebels turned into doe-eyed girls fighting over men

Our Rebellion heroines were manna from heaven for script writers, so what on earth happened to their stories?

Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30

Rebellion: Charlie Murphy as Elizabeth, Ruth Bradley as Frances and Sarah Greene as May Photo: Patrick Redmond
Rebellion: Charlie Murphy as Elizabeth, Ruth Bradley as Frances and Sarah Greene as May Photo: Patrick Redmond

Our female heroes of 1916 put up with a lot. The Irish State wouldn't pay their pensions because the law recognised soldiers in the 'masculine' sense, Eamon De Valera refused them permission to fight at his post during the Rising - much to his detriment (his post didn't hold up as well as others) - and for the next 100 years they were systematically written out of history by their own.

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Fast forward to 2016 and one good thing to come from the centenary celebrations is the recognition they deserve.

Femme fatales, such as Lily O' Connor who mastered the dark arts of firing to pick off the enemy; sniper Margaret Skinnider, who donned the dark greens of the ICA uniform to take pot shots from the Royal College of Surgeons before pulling on a dress and cycling into the city to pass messages to comrades; and Countess Markievicz, who was second-in-command at the fight on St Stephens Green. She kissed her revolver before handing it over upon surrender.

So when RTE announced that three women would front their anticipated new drama Rebellion, it was met with some acclaim.

What we expected were fierce characters willing to put everything on the line for their country. What we got was a poor man's attempt at female empowerment.

It all started so promisingly.

Charlie Murphy's character Elizabeth Butler, an intelligent middle-class woman and former suffragette studying medicine in the College of Surgeons, appears ill at ease when the men in her life - her father, brother and fiancé - belt out the British national anthem. She quietly tells a young socialist, Timmy, that she will be at the next Citizens Army meeting.

Her story has so much potential: shunning her wedding to fight the cause, quietly taking part in "Gaelic, culture and theatre" against her family's wishes and shooting her mother down when she tells her whip of a daughter that men admire the childbearing fuller figure. "Does it really matter what men admire?" asks Elizabeth.

But it becomes clear - through a series of lingering looks - that she has romantic feelings for 'Timmy' and her rush to take up arms could be widely construed as being led by her love for him.

In a scene at the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army, she tells him that her fiancé has set their marriage for Easter Monday.

"Will it be any different after we go out [to fight]?" she quietly asks, alluding to the possibility of a budding relationship.

Timmy is focused elsewhere and frustratingly snaps back that "of course it will", the whole of Europe will have changed.

Next up, May Lacey, played by Sarah Greene, and Ruth Bradley in her role as Frances O' Flaherty.

May is fiery and witty and working as a secretary at Dublin Castle and Frances is stationed at the Patrick Pearse Irish language school, teaching young lads how to handle weapons.

So far, so good.

That is until there's more lingering looks between Frances and Commandant Pearse as he asks her to twist her friend May's arm to smuggle documents out of Dublin Castle.

May, who is having an affair with her married English boss, point blank refuses.

She would never risk her job, prison or life for her country.

That is until she sees her boss's beautiful blonde-haired wife traipse into town and the pair skip off for lunch together at May's favourite restaurant.

A moment of female scorn and the gloves are off, not for love of country but revenge on her lover.

Other smatterings of female representation include the odd prostitute on the street asking soldiers if they "fancy a f*ck?" and a scene where the two main female leads tear shreds from each other over the men in their life.

Frances: "Has your Englishman so turned your head you can't see who your own people are any more?"

May: "Has your Pearse turned yours that you don't know what's right or wrong any more?"

Frances: "So it's right to be f*cked by a married Englishman?"

May: "I'd rather be f*cked by an Englishman than brainwashed by an Irishman."

Afterwards, social media was alight with praise simply because the storyline "revolved around women". They paid script writer Colin Teevan respect for his work.

It says a lot about what women have come to expect of their representation in television and film.

And for once, it could have been so much more.

Sunday Independent

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