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John Boland's week in TV: Eve Hewson brings poise to mix of murder and mumbo-jumbo in The Luminaries


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Screen presence: Eve Hewson as Anna Wetherell in The Luminaries

Screen presence: Eve Hewson as Anna Wetherell in The Luminaries

BBC/The Luminaries Production Lt

Screen presence: Eve Hewson as Anna Wetherell in The Luminaries

I can't recall a worse opening to a drama than the first five minutes of The Luminaries (BBC1). In this pre-credits sequence, a young woman in a long dress was dimly perceived running in slow motion through night-time woods and then a shot was heard and she was lying on the ground beside a man's corpse as men gathered around her. What was going on?

I hadn't the foggiest, but this was the way Eleanor Catton chose to begin the TV adaptation of her 2013 Man Booker-winning blockbuster, which I haven't read but which concerns gold prospecting adventurers in the New Zealand of the 1860s.

Anyway, if truth be told, the main reason why many Irish viewers, myself included, opted to watch this week's first two episodes was to have a gander at Eve Hewson (daughter of Bono, don't you know) in a major dramatic role.

Very impressive she was, too, effortlessly commanding the screen, just as Daisy Edgar-Jones did in Normal People. Hewson had to rely on sheer poise and presence rather than any assistance from a sometimes implausible plotline, which asked you to believe that a young, illiterate woman, who had just undergone an arduous sea journey from England, would arrive in New Zealand's south island as if she were on her way to a fashionable salon.

Soon, though, she was penniless and working in a brothel and it was a mark of Hewson's luminous persuasiveness that you bought into most of the contrived plot machinations - which included murderous scoundrels, racist misogynists, star-crossed lovers and a good deal of mystical mumbo-jumbo.

As the scheming brothel keeper, Eva Green gave one of those flamboyant turns that some people mistake for good acting, but Ewen Leslie was very engaging as her rakish husband, and it's for him and for Hewson that I'll keep faith with this period potboiler for at least another episode or two.

The other major dramatic offering of the week came courtesy of Talking Heads (BBC1). Alan Bennett's monologues were first televised, to considerable acclaim, in the late 1980s, with Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, David Haig and Thora Hird among the actors inhabiting the various characters.

Now they have been refilmed with a new set of actors, starting off this week with Imelda Staunton playing the sad, monstrous busybody who was performed 30 years ago by Patricia Routledge. She was chillingly good in this reinvention, though in the second playlet (newly written by Bennett) Sarah Lancashire struggled to convince as a mother incestuously fixated on her teenage son. But that, I think, was mainly due to the writing which, unusually for Bennett, failed to engage or even convince.

Yet these monologues, delivered by lonely and sometimes miserable characters, are eerily suited to our Covid times. Over the next couple of weeks viewers can also savour dramatic turns by Jodie Comer, Martin Freeman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lesley Manville.

Also worth a look is Perry Mason (Sky Atlantic), though you can banish all memories of the formidable lawyer made famous by Raymond Burr, first in the 1960s and then continuing in the 1980s.

Here he's the young Perry, scraping a grubby private eye living in the 1930s by photographing Hollywood starlets in flagrante until summoned by legal mentor Elias to investigate the killing of a baby who had been kidnapped for ransom.

This is the world of Chinatown, with corruption polluting the LA air and with dark motives everywhere, along with some extremely dark deeds. I've seen only the first of eight episodes but it looks superb and is greatly enhanced by the playing of Matthew Rhys as the troubled Perry, John Lithgow as the benignly nonchalant Elias and Juliet Rylance as the feisty Della who was to become Perry's loyal and doughty assistant in the long-running Raymond Burr series.

I wish I could say even one good word about RTÉ1's new British sitcom import, Kate & Koji, but it's just dire. With a gruesome laugh track, this could have been made in the 1970s - the 1970s of Open All Hours rather than Fawlty Towers, though I'm being unfair to Open All Hours, which at least had Ronnie Barker and David Jason to keep you watching.

Here you have Brenda Blethyn playing a cranky café owner in a forlorn seaside town sparring with a snooty asylum seeker from an unidentified African country. "Why is going home a problem?" she asks him. "I'd get killed," he replies. "I'd rather not be killed. Call me a snowflake."

Or how about this? "There are four things in life I hate," she declares, "scroungers, foreigners, doctors and posh people, and he's all four." I can't believe that Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin (Drop the Dead Donkey, Outnumbered) wrote the lamentable dialogue and nor can I believe that RTÉ saw fit to buy it.

Oh no, I groaned at the outset of Saoi Sa Chathaoir (RTÉ1), not yet another outing for Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh - hasn't the former GAA commentator already been interviewed at least a zillion times on every radio and television show you can think of?

But I was wrong, because he turned out to be engrossing company in this first instalment of a series that invites celebrities to reflect on their most vivid memories.

He recalled teaching Luke Kelly in inner-city Dublin, going to Croke Park for the first time, seeing Christy Ring in his sporting heyday, sharing a state car with former Taoiseach Jack Lynch and being thrilled by Riverdance.

This was all delivered in his mellifluously lilting Kerry gaeltacht Irish and it was quite lovely.

Indo Review