Thursday 23 May 2019

Resistance review: 'It isn’t nearly as vital or as thrilling as it needs to be - but there is something here'

3 stars

Height of the war: Brian Gleeson as hitman Jimmy McMahon in Resistance
Height of the war: Brian Gleeson as hitman Jimmy McMahon in Resistance

Chris Wasser

“Detective Inspector - time to say your prayers.” So begins the new season of Rebellion – sorry, Resistance - Colin Teevan’s extravagant reconstruction of the Irish War of Independence.

The year is 1920. Jimmy Mahon (Brian Gleeson), an IRA hit-man, and his boys, wait patiently on the side of a country road, for their target. It’s a cold November morning, and Mahon, we presume, has been instructed to carry out an assassination. A carriage passes by. The getaway driver dangles a cigarette from the window of the car. Along comes the target, on foot, and away we go.

Mahon hesitates – his sidekick does not. Armed forces suddenly appear, and a chase ensues, during which Mahon suffers a gunshot wound to the side. The action lasts just two minutes, but the message is clear: these are dangerous and divided times in Ireland, and Teevan – the writer and creator of RTE’s new five-part drama, Resistance (which is, in fact, a follow-up to Rebellion), is in no mood to waste our time.

You might recall the furore over 2016’s Rebellion. One of the biggest criticisms of that sleepy and soapy drama about the 1916 Easter Rising, was that it played loose and fast with historical facts. Still, people watched it. I didn’t care much for it, to be honest – nor do I remember enough to worry about how much of it was based on real-life events. But what I do remember was that, as a drama, it simply didn’t work. It was stuck in second gear. It was a languid and surprisingly stiff affair. But there are, at least, some signs of life in Resistance. Just some, mind.

FAMILY FORTUNES: Brian Gleeson in a scene from ‘Resistance’
FAMILY FORTUNES: Brian Gleeson in a scene from ‘Resistance’

We have several story strands to work with. Jimmy Mahon has been promoted. With the new, undercover job, comes a new, secret identity. Alas, Mahon’s brother, Patrick (David Wilmot), is an officer for the Royal Irish Constabulary. You don’t need to be an expert in Irish history to know that that little family episode is not going to end well.

Michael Collins (Gavin Drea) has entered the fold and is beginning to suspect that there may be a rat in his squad. There is so much more at play (a local newspaper team that suspects spies at every turn; Michael Ford-Fitzgerald’s coy and cowardly banker, Harry Butler), but the focus is, of course, Mahon and the lads’ not-so secret plans to boot the British administration out of Ireland.

And, yet, there is another subplot that pulls us in - that involving Ursula Sweeney (the excellent Simone Kirby), a code-breaker at Dublin Castle. Ursula’s fiancé died when she was pregnant with the couple’s first child and, as a result, the baby was taken from her and placed in a mother and child home. When the cruel sisters refuse to return the boy to his mother, a desperate Ursula turns to the IRA for help. Now, this is a story. This is where the writing is strongest – the performances, too. Vince Pope’s enchanting score takes care of the rest.

Read more: 'I resisted going into acting - you want to have your own identity' - Brian didn't set out to join the Gleeson family firm

Period of glamour: Natasha O'Keeffe (left) with Simone Kirby in RTE's Resistance
Period of glamour: Natasha O'Keeffe (left) with Simone Kirby in RTE's Resistance

Are there historical inaccuracies? Maybe. But this isn’t a documentary. We’re only here to tell you if Resistance is any use. And it is - just about, anyway. What we have here is a reasonably capable and competent drama that, though rough around the edges, suggests we may be in for a stronger and tighter run than last time.

Yes, it’s still a bit stagey. There are problems with the dialogue, too. It isn’t nearly as vital or as thrilling as it needs to be, and Catherine Morshead’s flat direction doesn’t help. But there is something here. We’ll give it another week, at least.

Read more: Being brought up in the UK you don't get taught any Irish history - Peaky Blinders' Natasha O'Keefe on researching Resistance role

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