Sunday 19 January 2020

'Only in Ireland would a campaigner for the rights of fathers protest at an event in which not one of the 32 competing women had a child'

Lovely hurling: Offaly Rose Emma Kirwan shows host Dáithí Ó Sé her ball skills. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Lovely hurling: Offaly Rose Emma Kirwan shows host Dáithí Ó Sé her ball skills. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

John Boland

Only in Ireland would a campaigner for the rights of fathers choose to protest at an event in which not one of the 32 competing young women had a child. And only in Ireland, where the sexual offences of clerics have scandalised the nation, would he think of furthering his cause by dressing up as a priest.

Still, these onstage shenanigans at Monday night's instalment of the Rose of Tralee (RTÉ1) brought an element of the real world into a fairy-tale competition, even if RTÉ frantically tried to preserve the fairy tale by immediately cutting off his stage invasion and screening a Rose-related promo instead.

The real world also intervened when Sydney rose Brianna spoke of interviewing sex workers in a brothel and of campaigning against domestic violence. She was the contestant who impressed me the most, though I knew she hadn't a prayer of winning when she endorsed the rights of Irish women to be in control of their own bodies and lives. The judges were clearly of the opinion that, if allowed to travel the world as the reigning Rose, she might actually have something to say.

Otherwise it was business as usual, with amiably up-for-it host Dáithí Ó Sé reminding us yet again that he's the only man for the job and with most of the contestants permitting themselves to be dressed and coiffured in homage to the Maureen O'Hara of the 1950s. What's that about?

But if the clothing and hairdos remained in a bizarre time warp, an unwelcome new development came with the culling of over half the competitors before the contest even began. This was shown in a cheerleading documentary called Road to the Dome, which RTÉ1 screened 90 minutes before Monday night's main event started, and it made for unpleasant viewing.

Why invite 65 regional finalists from around the globe to Tralee and then reject 33 of them as not sufficiently impressive to appear in the televised contest? Most, if not all, of them would have arrived with their families and friends (thus ensuring bumper business for local hoteliers and restaurants), only to subsequently suffer the humiliation of losing out to preferred others.

And the manner of their dismissal, with no reasons given, was upsetting, too - at their hotel bedroom doors on the morning of the televised show, all 65 contestants were given either a white or red rose, then shepherded into separate locations where they were finally told that the white rose represented success and the red failure.

I thought it gratuitously cruel in a contest that has always insisted on its warmth and empathy, and I paid no heed to presenter Sinead Kennedy's hollow insistence that "all 65 girls were able to experience the unique magic of the festival". The organisers, along with RTÉ, should ensure this desperate innovation is not repeated next year.

In President Trump: Can He Really Win? (Channel 4), American-based reporter Matt Frei asked supporters and opponents of the tycoon whether, in the words of Hillary Clinton, he was "temperamentally unfit" to run the country.

A group of genteel elderly women in Ohio were all for him, as were redundant steel workers in the same state, even though most of them had voted for Democratic candidates in previous elections.

The black community across the US feel otherwise, and are unlikely to be swayed by Trump's clumsy recent bid for their support in which he insultingly argued: "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good and you have no jobs, so what the hell do you have to lose?"

The tycoon's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told Frei that she would support a woman candidate "but not that woman", while at the end of a film that had nothing really new or interesting to say about Trump's chances, Frei could only offer that it would "all boil down to which of the candidates Americans like least". We already knew that. There were a few good soundbites in There's Something About Romcoms (Channel 4), most of them oddly concerning Hugh Grant, who deemed his Love Actually co-star Martine McCutcheon "a grounding presence among all these Oxbridge ponces who make these films". He had the grace to include himself as one of those ponces.

Simon Curtis, who was the creator of that movie, had thought Grant would "ruin" Four Weddings and a Funeral and was "too famous" for Notting Hill but praised him for his caddish turn in Bridget Jones's Diary, where Grant played "an absolute bastard, which of course was the role he had to do the least acting for". You got the impression he meant what he said, but you couldn't be sure.

Elsewhere, we heard from Meg Ryan about her role in When Harry Met Sally and we heard, too, from the makers of Pretty Woman and Sleepless in Seattle, but nothing about the more interesting of the genre or such great players as Cary Grant or Katharine Hepburn.

BBC3's online sitcom, Fleabag, has now been promoted to BBC2 and it's well worth catching. If you thought Sex in the City was raunchy and Girls explicitly taboo-breaking, Fleabag is positively filthy. I thought it terrific.

Developed from an Edinburgh festival stage show by writer and main performer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, its series of sketches about a screwed-up, fulfilment-seeking woman in her thirties manages to be both very funny and genuinely poignant, and Waller-Bridge has a really winning presence, with great support from Bill Paterson as her awful father.

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