Thursday 13 December 2018

It's all very hippy-dippy in ancient Britain and modern Ireland

Mackenzie Crook and Kelly Reilly in new Sky Atlantic series Britannia
Mackenzie Crook and Kelly Reilly in new Sky Atlantic series Britannia

John Boland

There's obviously nothing new about either Donald Trump's world view or the manner in which he recently expressed it because I learned from Britannia (Sky Atlantic) that Rome was "a godforsaken shithole in the middle of nowhere".

Mind you, the man offering this insight was a druidic outcast in the Britain of 43AD, so perhaps his opinions, as with those of America's Neanderthal president, shouldn't be taken as gospel - especially in a series that seems less intent on historical accuracy that on more hallucinatory shenanigans.

I say "seems" because so far I've only managed the first episode, though you can binge-watch the lot if 10 hours of butchery, sorcery, shaggy beards and unbridled trippiness don't prove excessive. For myself, it was like being at a very muddy rock festival with added eye gougings and throat slittings.

David Morrissey is a commanding presence as invading general Aulus Plautius, while Zoë Wanamaker and Mackenzie Crook vie for attention as rival druids, but after mature consideration, I decided that an hour in their raucous company was more than sufficient to meet my hippy-dippy needs.

There were hippy-dippy moments, too, in the second episode of Striking Out (RTÉ1), as estranged couple David and Suzi battled over custody of seven-year-old daughter Mia - David having run up to family lawyer Tara in the street, as one does, and immediately persuaded her to act on his behalf, given that Suzi was "unsuitable in so many ways" to be a fit mother.

So Tara scrutinised photographs of Suzi with two bearded guys in her alternative-lifestyle commune ("It's as if the '60s never ended," was David's aghast view) and found it all very strange. "Is she polyamorous?" she wondered. Well, not Pollyanna, that's for sure.

Anyway, armed with this suspicion, Tara then went to court, where, in a stirring victory for feminism, she got Suzi to admit having had sex with the two bearded guys, thus securing custody rights for David. Way to go, Tara. Meanwhile, posh English barrister Vincent was not only chairing a tribunal into political corruption but found time to invite surly young criminal Ray and his dodgy pal to supper in his palatial home. "Do you like pheasant?" he asked them. Of course they did.

The episode concluded with a punch-up in a pub because, you know, this is Dublin and that's what people do in pubs, especially when the screenwriter can't think of any other way to end the episode. Indeed, this series is so daft that it's become addictive.

Archie Panjabi made her name as treacherous private investigator Kalinda in The Good Wife, and now she's at the centre of Next of Kin (TV3), a six-part ITV drama in which she plays Pakistan-born GP Mona, who's married and working in London and awaiting the return of her aid-worker brother from Lahore for a family birthday. However, he's been kidnapped and executed, footage of which is streamed by his killers.

Whether this will settle for thriller mode was unclear from this week's opening episode, but due attention was paid to the emotional and psychological fallout from the murder among family members and there are indications that the drama may explore issues of grief and identity.

After four episodes, McMafia (BBC1) has yet to kick into gear. Clearly a lot is due to happen, much of it no doubt quite unpleasantly, though whether the loathsome villains will get their comeuppance at the hands of vengeful anti-hero Alex or whether they'll do for him is anyone's guess. I'm still watching, though.

And I'm continuing to watch House of Saud (BBC1), a frightening three-part documentary series about "probably the most corrupt country on the planet", whose princes have been "lining their own pockets for decades".

That was the opinion of one of the film's pundits and it was borne out by some very murky stories about UK collusion in arms deals that involved massive kickbacks to senior Saudi officials.

Ian Foxley and Peter Gardiner were two Englishmen who felt obliged to become whistleblowers when they discovered what was going on, one of them describing the Saudis as "the kind of friends you don't want to have". Perhaps the new crown prince, who last November ordered a swoop on 500 corrupt Saudi tycoons, including 11 princes, is the man to sort it out, but he's phenomenally rich himself and maybe he was just consolidating his own power. Time will tell.

Back home, in Brexit: Farming on the Edge (RTÉ1), George Lee travelled Ireland's length and breadth as he pondered such questions as: What will life be like when Britain leaves? And will our food become too expensive to sell to the UK?

Brexit having not yet happened, George hadn't the answer to these queries, though he encountered lots of people who predicted dire outcomes. "It's going to be an absolute disaster," said Matt Foley, who produces 25 million tomatoes every season in his north Dublin farm, and that sentiment was echoed up hills and down dales throughout the country. Again time will tell, though credit to George for all his foot-slogging.

I came late to Derry Girls (Channel 4), whose first episode was extravagantly praised by a number of reviewers, both here and in the UK. This week's second episode wasn't as funny as I'd been led to expect, though there were some good moments in Lisa McGee's Troubles-era comedy involving a gaggle of blithely rude schoolgirls.

There were amusing turns, too, from Kevin McAleer as the world's most boring uncle and from Tommy Tiernan in almost laid-back mode as the main dad.

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