Saturday 24 February 2018

Rebellion Review: Women central to drama that makes history feel new

Rebellion cast: Sarah Greene as May, Brian Gleeson as Jimmy, Charlie Murphy as Elizabeth, Barry Ward as Arthur and Ruth Bradley as Frances
Rebellion cast: Sarah Greene as May, Brian Gleeson as Jimmy, Charlie Murphy as Elizabeth, Barry Ward as Arthur and Ruth Bradley as Frances
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

I must admit I was sceptical about RTÉ's new 1916 drama 'Rebellion' for several reasons. First, I hated the promo ad. Those schoolkids chanting U2 and inspirational soundbites were terribly schlocky.

I was also wary of Colin Teevan returning as a writer. His last RTÉ drama, 'Charlie', left a lot to be desired; the dialogue was clunky, and stuffed with leaden chunks of exposition.

The characters were one-dimensional, which is more than can be said for the wigs.

On top of all this, I'm already growing tired of the Rising commemorations - there are plays, songs, TV shows, tea towels and chocolate bars all paying homage to our forefathers. And we're still only in the first week of January.

Most of these commemorations seem to lack any sense of perspective - everyone involved in the Rising seems to have been thoroughly decent chaps.

It's all black and white, with the greyness, the violence and complexity of the revolution played down to make it more digestible for a modern audience.

So I wasn't exactly rooting for 'Rebellion'. But I was pleasantly surprised - the production values are sky-high, and the acting from the lead female roles, particularly Ruth Bradley and Sarah Greene, is exceptionally strong.

By focusing on the women's voices and stories, the drama gives fresh insight into a period of history that has been explored extensively. It makes it feel new and, more importantly, places the women centre stage when they have usually been ushered into the wings.

Dublin also looks staggeringly beautiful, and the costumes are exquisite.

There are some downsides. I don't think the sexual chemistry between Brian Gleeson and Charlie Murphy is at all convincing. But perhaps that will develop as the series does.

And I hate seeing yet another emotionally stunted Protestant on Irish TV screens. Elizabeth Butler's father can express his love for his daughter only by dispassionately pecking her on the cheek. We do experience normal feelings - like joy and happiness - from time to time, you know.

The introduction of historical figures such as Countess Markievicz and James Connolly was hammy, at times even pantomime. And some of the dialogue has a modern ring. But these were relatively minor issues in what was a compelling drama that managed to breathe new life and energy into the Rising.

It seems to have been a hit with viewers with 619,000 tuning in. Impressive - but 'Mrs Brown's Boys' pulled in 765,000.

Irish Independent

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