Thursday 19 July 2018

Pat Stacey: IFTA drama nominees are the iffiest ever seen

Viewpoint: Striking Out and Acceptable Risk are up for gongs.  Tell me it's a joke

Amy Huberman plays Tara in Striking Out
Amy Huberman plays Tara in Striking Out

Pat Stacey

This year’s IFTA Film & Drama Awards don’t take place until next month, but there’s already been the inevitable criticism of the nominations in the Best Leading Actress in a Film category.

Whereas all the other categories feature at least five nominees, this one has only three: Sarah Bolger, Saoirse Ronan and Ann Skelly.

The fact that these are the only performances this year considered worthy of a nomination is a dispiriting reflection of the paucity of good film roles being written for women.

That said, having three credible nominees is far preferable to bulking up the nominations with a couple of makeweights, just for the sake of appearances.

Dublin legal eagles: (from left) Rory Keenan as Eric, Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Meg, Amy Huberman as Tara, Neil Morrissey as Vincent and Emmet Byrne as Ray in new RTÉ drama Striking Out
Dublin legal eagles: (from left) Rory Keenan as Eric, Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Meg, Amy Huberman as Tara, Neil Morrissey as Vincent and Emmet Byrne as Ray in new RTÉ drama Striking Out

Strangely though, the same level of quality control doesn’t seem to apply to the television drama nominations (other TV genres, such as comedy and factual, are parcelled into a separate ceremony).

As is the norm, the Best Drama category is dominated by productions whose eligibility arises from being wholly or partially shot here or in Northern Ireland, using Irish crew and actors: Game of Thrones, Vikings, and the BBC’s brilliant Line of Duty.

Amy Huberman plays Tara in Striking Out
Amy Huberman plays Tara in Striking Out

But hello — what’s this? Sidling up to this exalted company are none other than the shaky BBC NI-RTE co-production Paula and — hilariously — Striking Out and Acceptable Risk.

Now, if you thought a best film actress category with just three nominees was a sad and depressing scenario, it’s not half as grim as the sight of these three making up the numbers.

Acceptable Risk, RTE One
Acceptable Risk, RTE One

And that’s all this is about. Making up the numbers in the latest desperate attempt to pretend that RTE drama hasn’t been stuck in a rut of mediocrity since the end of season three of Love/Hate — after which that initially cracking series ran out of ideas and road.

At least Paula had some decent actors (Denise Gough, Tom Hughes, Owen McDonnell) giving decent performances. But it was nobody’s idea of one of the better dramas, let alone the best, of 2017.

The other two, however, don’t have any redeeming features. They’re turkeys. Stinkers. Duds. After the first season of the ropey, soapy legal drama Striking Out, I wrote that it wouldn’t merit a second glance in the schedule of any other major broadcaster (and RTE counts as a major broadcaster).

The first couple of episodes of season two provided no evidence that much has changed. If anything, the characters are even more absurd and the plots even more silly and implausible than they were before.

Still, Striking Out can be relied upon for the occasional unintended laugh, usually courtesy of Fiona O’Shaughnessy, whose over-the-top performance as hacker-cum-gumshoe Meg Reilly is so epically strange and mannered, it borders on the surreal.

Acceptable Risk, a drab, flatly directed and thoroughly unconvincing Irish-Canadian conspiracy thriller, supplied neither laughs nor thrills.

Star Elaine Cassidy’s performance consisted of looking sullen while folding and unfolding her arms for six episodes.

It’s not as if this poor standard is anything new. All of RTE’s flagship dramas in recent years — Charlie, Amber, Clean Break, Rebellion —have been largely dreadful. And all of them have been nominated for IFTA awards.

It’s about time the Irish Film and Television Academy stopped kidding itself and stopped trying to kid viewers as well.

We’re the ones, after all, who ultimately have to foot the bill for RTE’s substandard dross.

Herald

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