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John Boland's week in TV: One-note documentary spares Dana a political grilling

 

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All Kinds of Everything: Dana celebrates after winning the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest

All Kinds of Everything: Dana celebrates after winning the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest

All Kinds of Everything: Dana celebrates after winning the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest

Don't forget to watch RTÉ1 this evening when Marty Whelan will be bringing his unique brand of unbridled enthusiasm to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Well, not exactly, given that the contest has been cancelled, but such a fiddly detail won't stop Marty from honouring the 41 warblers who would have been vying for the glittering prize. That virtual celebration is scheduled for 8pm and will be preceded by Marty's Magical Eurovision Moments, in which the commentary stalwart will be rhapsodising about Irish wins and other highlights from past contests.

He wasn't around, of course, for Ireland's first Eurovision win in 1970, but that was duly celebrated in Dana: The Original Derry Girl (RTÉ1/BBC1), a profile that was clearly endorsed by Dana herself and that began in fanzine mode, but ultimately didn't serve her very well.

It started with evocative reminders of her giddy rise to fame as an 18-year-old whose lovely voice and wholesome innocence struck an immediate chord with Eurovision voters. British entrant Mary Hopkin had been the bookies' favourite, but midway through Dana's performance of 'All Kinds of Everything', Hopkin's manager, Mickie Most, turned to the song's co-writer Derry Lindsay and whispered: "If she doesn't fall off the stool, I think you guys are going to win."

Dana herself, as she recalled, was "in a daze" when she won, but capitalised with a string of hits and frequent appearances on Top of the Pops, even if most of us now only remember her as the singer of that one song. We do, of course, recall her two attempts, as a determinedly conservative Catholic candidate, to become President of Ireland, and she referred t these bids as bruising, especially a radio grilling by Vincent Browne.

"Why am I being pilloried?" she asked him in bewilderment during the interview, but now confesses: "I didn't know his form, the sighs and his head in his hands. I thought he was sick."

The film-makers never asked her about her political or religious beliefs, so the viewer ended up not really knowing anything about her beyond the fact that she had a glittering early career and a less happy foray into politics.

David Norris, who was similarly vilified in his bid for the presidency, was a sympathetic contributor to this profile and he took centre stage in the final instalment of Keys to My Life (RTÉ1), with presenter Brendan Courtney taking him back to his childhood home in Ballsbridge and then to the house in Greystones where he lived before acquiring the splendid Georgian townhouse in which he now resides.

As you'd expect, he was an ebullient interviewee, whether recalling his pioneering role as policy-changing gay activist or remembering how he felt as a six-year-old on being informed of the death of his distant father: "I gave myself a hernia trying to squeeze out a tear because I didn't give a damn. No, I didn't miss my father at all - I didn't know him."

When his equally undemonstrative mother sent him off to boarding school at the age of seven, he hated it, especially "the awful lot of bullying and the dreadful masters".

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Were these keys to his subsequent life? We never found out because Courtney was more intent on celebrating than on asking any questions that might provide revealing answers.

I did learn quite a lot from Peter Sellers: A State of Comic Ecstasy (BBC2), mainly from ex-girlfriends and wives. Sinéad Cusack was barely out of college when she starred with him in the 1970 movie Hoffman, which concerned a girl involved with a creepy older man. "I don't think it could be made today," she said.

"Peter did ask me to marry him," she recalled, but she declined, unlike Britt Ekland, who was 22 when she married him. Now 77, Ekland reminisced about his infatuation with "a little cream puff from Sweden" who didn't know what she was getting herself into. The marriage lasted four years and was marked by his domineering personality and frequent control-freak rages.

Apart from Dr Strangelove, Sellers actually featured in very few good films and is now mainly famous for his sublime comic turn as Inspector Clouseau, and so it was curious that this profile never referred to these Pink Panther movies - rather like making a documentary about John Cleese without mentioning Fawlty Towers.

Normal People (RTÉ1/BBC1) continued on its riveting way, though this week Connell came across as inexplicably mopey and uncommitted - more so than in Sally Rooney's novel. But there were aching moments, too, in director Lenny Abrahamson's subtle, nuanced handling of his characters and their university milieu.

I'm also enjoying The Eddy (Netflix), which looks as arresting as you would expect from the director of La La Land. In this story of a struggling jazz club on the outskirts of Paris, each episode focuses its attention on one of eight characters, and though I've only so far seen the opening instalment, the various characters seem intriguing.

It's clearly a slow burner, and already there are hints that a crime strand may be evolving, but what I'm liking most is that it's suffused by a real love of jazz and that, in its hand-held cinéma vérité style, it's reminiscent of those marvellous early Nouvelle Vague movies by Truffaut and Godard.

Becoming (Netflix) could have been just a slavish puff for Michelle Obama's bestselling memoir, but it's lively, witty and arresting, much like the former First Lady herself.


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