Thursday 12 December 2019

Long and short of week's TV viewing (and no clapping)

Passion chronicled a 24-hour play which encompassed Christ's betrayal, trial and execution
Passion chronicled a 24-hour play which encompassed Christ's betrayal, trial and execution

John Boland

'No one ever wished it longer,' Samuel Johnson declared of Paradise Lost, and the same could be said about most of this week's programmes.

There was Passion (RTÉ1), for instance, which was billed as a 'Would You Believe?' special about a 24-hour passion play staged last Easter in the village of Pallasgreen, Co Limerick, and which seemed to last even longer than the event it was chronicling.

Perhaps that's because it didn't bother offering any information that might involve the viewer. Who, for instance, was Eamonn, a bearded guy in a boiler suit who looked like a ZZ Top roadie and was the creator-director of the Holy Week drama?

We were told by his adoring actors that he was a man of "vision" and was so extraordinary that he was "unreal". Yes, but who was he, what did he do for a living? Had he a wife and kids? Had he directed other plays? You know, that kind of basic stuff that would enable us to form some opinion of him for ourselves and not meekly go along with the adulation of his cast.

We also had to contend with the adulation of roving RTÉ radio reporter, Marie Louise O'Donnell, whose gushings to Sean O'Rourke last spring about the event were replayed here at some length. The way Marie Louise raved on about its "unparalleled creativity", this was a production so astonishing as to rival in artistic importance the premieres of King Lear, Hedda Gabler and Waiting for Godot.

Maybe you had to be there because, on film, all I saw was a lot of amateur actors (about whose lives in the real world we learned nothing, either) taking themselves very seriously indeed as they prepared for their day-long enactment of Christ's betrayal, trial and execution. Indeed, so doggedly earnest were they all that, at one point, Garry, who was playing Jesus, sternly declared: "I don't want people to enjoy this. If someone claps, I'll be pissed off".

Gosh, Garry, we wouldn't want that. So no clapping then.

Religiosity also surfaced in Sky Atlantic's The Leftovers, which posits a world in which 2pc of the global population suddenly vanish, leaving behind families and friends to mourn them and wonder what the heck's going on.

This week's pilot left at least one viewer similarly bemused, not so much at the basic notion, which was quite intriguing, but at the filmmakers' inability to tell the story straight. What could have been spooky (as in the French series, The Returned, about a reverse situation) was instead tediously confusing, with muddy visuals and uninteresting characters.

Some American critics are saying that it gets better as it progresses, but I'm not cheered by the fact that the guy who dreamed it up also gave us Lost, which never bothered trying to resolve its storyline into something that made any sense.

At least you know where you are right from the outset with Tyrant (Fox), in which California-based paediatrician Barry, formerly known as Bassam, reluctantly takes his wife and teenage kids on a visit back to the Middle Eastern country ruled by his despotic father, Khaled, and his psychotic brother, Jamal.

Lest we might be in any doubt about the latter, within five minutes, we saw him raping a local woman as her hapless husband and children were forced to listen outside to her ordeal, and within 30, he was sexually assaulting his new daughter-in-law on her wedding night. And the pilot ended with him raping the first woman again.

This was nasty stuff and nastily filmed, too, as was a violent assault by Jamal in the toilet of a bath house. So, it's not surprising that the series has been denounced by the Council on American-Islamic Relations for its portrayal of Arab culture as "devoid of any redeeming qualities". And the casting of an Israeli actor to play the odious Jamal seems yet another gratuitous provocation.

On a more mundane level, the acting by the American family is so wooden and the lines they're given are so trite that it's hard to care about the plight in which they've found themselves. Some US reviewers have invoked The Godfather as a similar story of a violent dynasty, but that's an insult to Coppola's masterpiece.

While The Speech (RTÉ1) wasn't as interminable as the same night's Passion, it was a long slog all the same on a subject that might have merited half of the hour it was alloted. Here, tongue-tied, panic-stricken David, who was faced with an upcoming best-man oration, was coached out of his public-speaking terror by professional media windbag, George Hook.

Actually, Hook managed to tone down his usual garrulousness, confining his fondness for sweeping statements to such pearls as, "All the great guys practise in front of a mirror" and "When you work at it, you succeed". He also introduced David to a voice coach and got him to speak at a toastmasters' gathering.

"A stunning performance," he said of the latter. He was being generous and the film itself was far too generous with its time.

The Brighton Bomb: 30 Years On (TV3) was written and produced by David Harvey, but was actually made for Channel 5, which explains why it seemed aimed at people who'd been on another planet for the last few decades.

We learned that the 1984 IRA attempt on Margaret Thatcher's life "had its genesis in the Northern Ireland troubles", that Thatcher's "mission was to make Britain great again" and that she "certainly wasn't a socialist". Furthermore, she "took a hard and uncompromising line towards the IRA".

Nothing new got said here. So does an anniversary justify the making of an hour-long film?

I also wondered why I was watching Saving Ray, the first of a TV3 four-parter about Dubliner Ray Adamson's attempt to shed some of his 28-stone weight in the lead-up to his wedding.

Ray seemed a nice guy, his pals seemed nice, and his partner and two sons seemed nice too, but I really had no interest in accompanying Ray on his weight-loss quest. I feel the same about RTÉ's Operation Transformation and all the other shows about obesity and dieting. That probably makes me an uncaring person, but there you have it.

Luvvie talk of Attenborough was well deserved

Richard Attenborough: A Life (Channel 4) celebrated the actor, director and producer who died last month and, as befitted its subject, it was full of luvvie-talk, even from Steven Spielberg, who clearly had huge time for the man.

But then it was hard not to, because Attenborough seemed to be an all-round good egg, truly dedicated to his profession, to those in need of his guidance and to good causes of all kinds.

The tribute was determinedly uncritical - no one mentioned what a dull director he could be, though, then again, more could have been said about his acting: he was truly chilling in both Brighton Rock and 10 Rillington Place.

And he was crucial to the British film industry, which will miss him badly.


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