Monday 19 August 2019

'Downton does Dublin' in RTÉ's terrific 1916 yarn Rebellion

Actresses Sarah Greene, Charlie Murphy and Ruth Bradley at a press screening of RTE’s new 1916 drama, ‘Rebellion’. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Actresses Sarah Greene, Charlie Murphy and Ruth Bradley at a press screening of RTE’s new 1916 drama, ‘Rebellion’. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Ed Power

RTÉ's upcoming 1916 epic 'Rebellion' is a sumptuous production which brings Edwardian Dublin to life, while also convincingly capturing the turmoil of the pre-Independence period.

Above all, this is a costume romp, with the Easter Rising presented as a backdrop against which individual dramas are played out. The first of five episodes is a riot of frocks and handlebar moustaches. In other words, 'Downton Does Dublin'.

The script is by Colin Teevan, writer of last January's well-received 'Charlie' biopic. However, 'Rebellion' is more ambitious - spanning classes and political affiliations as it seeks to deliver a nuanced portrait of a country about to go to war with itself.

Bravely, Teevan has chosen to focus not on great historical figures - though Padraig Pearse and Countess Markievicz have cameos - but on three women whose lives are thrown into conflict.

In her first major TV role since 'Love/Hate', Charlie Murphy is winningly gutsy as Elizabeth, an Anglo-Irish medical student drawn to James Connolly's Citizens' Army (and to Brian Gleeson's bit-of-rough socialist agitator).

Sarah Greene plays May, a small town Cork woman employed at Dublin Castle and bringing her work home with her - in the form of an affair with her boss. Completing the triptych of strong female characters, Ruth Bradley is starry-eyed Pearse acolyte Frances, whose pastimes include huffing around Dublin on a squawking single-gear bike and helping schoolboys make improvised incendiaries.

A tautly-spun script is complemented by top-notch production values, with pre-Independence O'Connell Street (Sackville Street, as it was then known) convincingly recreated - complete with a CGI Nelson's Pillar.

Smartly, RTÉ tapped an outsider, Finland's Aku Louhimies, to direct. Unburdened by a personal stake in 1916 or what it represents for modern Ireland, he focuses instead on showing the past as it was - not as we might wish it to be.

Any flaws? Well, episode one is slow-paced and lacking any bayonet-charging derring-do. Certainly anyone expecting to see Pearse, Dev et al dispensing justice to villainous Tommies is going to feel let down.

The programme's ambitions seem to be far grander - and, judged from the opening hour, it pursues them with verve and wit.

'Rebellion', RTÉ1, January 3.

Irish Independent

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