On Sunday night, when the eyes of the majority of Irish viewers were trained on either Clean Break on RTE1 or Downton Abbey on UTV, TG4 quietly unpacked another of those modest but enormously engaging documentary series it seems to be able to pull out of the sack on an impressively regular basis.
ollywood In Éirinn, presented with ebullience by that fine and versatile actor Denis Conway, is a four-parter that takes a lively look back at the impact on various communities when a big-time movie-making machine rolled into town.
The first episode, repeated tonight at 9pm, focuses on Ken Loach’s 2006 Palme d’Or winner The Wind That Shakes The Barley, filmed for the most part in Cork.
There are warmly affectionate reminiscences from Loach and one of the film’s two male leads, Pádraic Delaney, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.
But where Hollywood In Éirinn really comes alive is in the anecdotes of the locals, many of whom Loach used as extras. Some were even given speaking roles.
A local hurling coach, tasked with making the scene that opens the film look authentic, recalls trying to knock two useless young fellas who’d never played hurling in their lives into shape. Somebody had to discreetly inform him they were the film’s stars, Delaney and Cillian Murphy.
Two wonderful old geezers who appeared in a pub scene remember being taken aback at all the excited young women charging at them like out of control cattle. Sadly for the boys, it was Murphy they were there to ogle.
Hollywood In Éirinn, which will also be looking at Barry Lyndon, Moby Dick and Song For A Raggy Boy, is a lovely series. You just can’t imagine any other channel making it, which is why TG4 is so important.
Full disclosure: I can’t string a sentence together in Irish (I barely scraped an ordinary level pass in the Leaving Cert). I have no particular affection for the language and my memories of how it was not so much taught as enforced when I was in primary school in the 60s and 70s are nothing but negative. But I’d be the first in line to sign a petition if TG4, which celebrates 20 years on air next year, were ever threatened with dissolution.
In a fine article in last Saturday’s Irish Independent, my colleague John Meagher wrote about how the channel, called Teilifís na Gaeilge before its 1999 rebranding, is struggling to so much as break even. Last year it recorded a loss of €44,000; this year it’s looking for the Government to give it more money. If it were in my power, the cheque would already be in the post.
Any channel that can produce a political satire as sharp as The Running Mate, a comedy-drama as funny as Rásaí na Gaillimhe, and a string of dramas as impressive as Na Cloighe, An Bronntonas, Corp + Anam, Scúp and An Klondike, which finishes tonight, AND do it all on an annual Government handout of just €32 million supplemented by modest commercial revenue, deserves to be protected and rewarded with more funding.
And that’s even without mentioning TG4’s excellent comedies, superb documentaries, minority sports coverage, innovative approach to youth programming and keen eye for quality imports (Oz, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Justified and more).
Whatever language you say it in, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to Irish television.
The fact TG4’s audience share is tiny — just 50,000 people watched An Bronntanas, as opposed to the 850,000 that watched the lamentable Charlie — is the best reason in the world for keeping it alive.