Thursday 14 November 2019

'IFTAs betray the terrible state of Irish TV drama' - Pat Stacey

Amy Huberman as Tara in Striking Out
Amy Huberman as Tara in Striking Out

Pat Stacey

Talking point: The annual gong show paints a bleak picture of abject mediocrity

Unless you’re a professional working in the film and television industry, or just someone with a pathological interest in the activities of home-grown actors and TV presenters, the Ifta awards may well have slipped under your radar.

This year’s Irish Film & Television Academy gong show took place in front of about 500 guests at the Mansion House in Dublin on Saturday night.

A familiar parade of Irish celebrities – some more deserving of the description than others – filed along the red carpet on a fine spring evening, the women dutifully stopping to strike a pose and show off their frocks to the photographers.

While nobody is pretending Dublin is Los Angeles or the Mansion House is the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, this year’s bash was nonetheless grievously low on star wattage.

There was a notable shortage of the kind of big names the event has regularly attracted since its inception 14 years ago. The great Michael Gambon, the recipient of the lifetime achievement award, was unable to attend due to illness.

An Klondike, which is airing on TG4
An Klondike, which is airing on TG4

Nominees Ruth Negga, Aidan Turner, Michael Fassbender, Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan were no-shows. That left only Colm Meaney and Jason O’Mara – and, at a stretch, James Nesbitt – as the only attendees/nominees with a significant international profile.

The Iftas have been operating in reduced circumstances since the disastrously amateurish and embarrassing 2014 event, which seemed to be taking place in the middle of a drunken wedding reception. The ceremony’s dwindling importance is evident in the television coverage this year: a mere hour of highlights on RTE One tomorrow night.

For those of us who’ve always felt that mounting a lavish, Bafta-style ceremony in a country with a film and TV industry as small as ours was a triumph of hubris and bloated self-importance over reality, the 2014 fiasco was the strongest argument yet for scrapping the thing in its current form.

It might seem like a strange thing for a television columnist to suggest, but the Ifta awards would benefit enormously from uncoupling film and TV. Television is very much the secondary partner in this particular marriage of inconvenience.

It’s worth noting that at some point over the years the Television & Film awards quietly morphed into the Television & Drama awards. Every other area of television – comedy, current affairs, documentary series, music shows – is being ignored.

Unfortunately, the effect has been to make the television drama category look even more embarrassingly threadbare than ever.

There were some thoroughly deserving winners on the night. The second series of TG4’s excellent An Klondike won two of the main drama categories – best director for Dathai Keane and best supporting actor for Ned Dennehy – and also took best cinematography. In one of the absurd quirks of the Iftas, that last category is one of several open to both film and television productions.

I was also delighted to see James Phelan bag the scriptwriting award for another TG4 series, the time-travelling 1916 romp Wrecking The Rising (even though it’s technically a comedy). Like An Klondike, it’s another example of the Irish-language station’s productions effortlessly rising (no pun intended) above limited budgets with wit, imagination, vision and a willingness to take risks.

Take away these two series, along with the likes of Vikings, Game Of Thrones, Peaky Blinders, Ripper Street and all the other nominees that involve Irish production crews and Irish acting talent, but aren’t in any true sense Irish dramas, and what are you left with? Not a whole lot, to be frank.

The only other genuinely Irish dramas in contention were TV3’s stodgy rural misery-fest Smalltown and RTE One’s rickety and unconvincing Striking Out, for which RTE darling Amy Huberman took best actress.

Neither of them would merit so much as a second glance if they’d been made anywhere else but here, let alone being in the running for awards. It’s a bleak and depressing snapshot of Irish TV drama.

IFTAs, RTE One, Tuesday 10.15pm


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