Wednesday 26 June 2019

Review: The problem with Resistance is that the viewer never really knew what was history and what was soap opera


Stand-out performance: Aoife Duffin as journalist Eithne in Resistance
Stand-out performance: Aoife Duffin as journalist Eithne in Resistance

John Boland

Rugby-loving Brexiteers must have exulted at England's thrashing of Ireland last Saturday. And if any Brexiteering visitors took the opportunity to stay on in Dublin for the weekend, they could have watched the last episode of Resistance (RTÉ1) in their hotel room and been confirmed in their disdain for their neighbour.

Here were the Irish behaving so badly that they were on the brink of forcing the Brits into a deal, though admittedly one with a hard border. Naturally, the only people that this pleased were the antecedents of Arlene Foster, but such is history, from which (as we all know) usually no lessons are learned.

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But then the problem with Resistance throughout its five-week run is that the viewer never really knew what was history and what was soap opera - which bits were meant to have some basis in historical fact and which were simply dreamt up by screenwriter Colin Teevan.

You could quickly spot the latter in some especially silly storylines, such as that involving Ursula's young son, first kidnapped by nefarious nuns, then by the IRA so that Ursula was compelled to do their bidding, and then by Ursula herself, whose noble sister was finally shot dead by rebels for reasons I didn't really understand.

But then there was lots I didn't understand in a confusing set of plot strands that tried to be all things to all people, if not really to the Brits, who were mostly evil incarnate. Still, Paul Ritter was arresting as the conniving General Winters, while Craig Parkinson gave a mesmeric turn as the loathsome Captain McCloud. Aoife Duffin stood out, too, as Sinn Féin journalist Eithne, but most of the other players gave stock characterisations straight from Central Casting.

Towards the end, some kind of political dialectic was attempted, as both sides contemplated the fate of the country, but by then it was too late for a history lesson that had hitherto been muffled by melodrama.

Perhaps the series should have been preceded by The Irish Revolution (RTÉ1), a three-part documentary that began the following night and that looks set to be a proper history lesson about the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Directed by Ruán Magan and narrated by Cillian Murphy, this is based on the huge Cork University Press tome, Atlas of the Irish Revolution, and in this week's opener, it took 20th-century events through the Easter Rising and beyond to 1918.

The archive footage was fascinating, while historians (among whom the best known were Roy Foster and Joe Lee) furthered the clearly set-out narrative with interesting insights. This looks likely to be a major series, along the lines of Seán Ó Mórdha's Seven Ages, if less ambitious and more narrowly focused.

"It's part of who we are," someone said at the outset of Ár gClub (TG4), a four-part series that's following the supporters of a quartet of GAA clubs in their 2018 bid for glory. It's a clichéd sentiment but there was no doubting the passion of these mainly middle-aged and elderly fans from Dublin, Donegal, Connemara and Kerry.

Produced and directed by Risteard Ó Domhnaill, this week's opener was low-key in its approach, though with a melancholy undertow, too; one Connemara man lamenting that, because of economic circumstances, "a lot of the younger generation are gone. It's very sad". Meanwhile in Dublin, Kilmacud Crokes, the biggest GAA club in Ireland, has 5,000 members and 180 teams.

After Holly Carpenter's obvious displeasure the week before last at being voted off Dancing with the Stars (RTÉ1), Darren Kennedy took last Sunday evening's ejection with commendable good grace.

But, honestly, I couldn't give a hoot what happens to this season's lot. They really are a colourless bunch, while the hype from presenters Jennifer Zamparelli and Nicky Byrne gets evermore outlandish and the preening antics of judge Julian Benson ever more grating. Enough already.

Les Misérables (BBC1) came to its end without a song being warbled. Three cheers for that and also for Dominic West, whose central performance as Jean Valjean held the whole thing together and gave vivid meaning to such qualities as endurance, decency and grace under pressure.

David Oyelowo was fine, too, as his nemesis Javert, though his relentless pursuit of Jean Valjean remained ridiculous, while in the last episode it was farcical that the loathsome Thénardier just happened to pop up as witness to every crucial action.

Oh, and Ellie Bamber as Cosette and Josh O'Connor as Marius were complete wet blankets as the young lovers we were supposed to care about.

But the series was mostly a great success, with Andrew Davies an expert adaptor and with that blazingly good lead performance from West.

Natasha Lyonne's central turn in Russian Doll (Netflix) is commanding, too, and if you binge-watch all eight half-hours of this new series, you might well find it a winner.

I haven't done that, but I was intrigued by the premise, which has 36-year-old New Yorker Nadia getting accidentally killed at her birthday party and then returning alive to get killed all over again, time after time.

This variant on Groundhog Day isn't really played for laughs and I don't yet know if she'll find the ultimate redemption discovered by Bill Murray in Harold Ramis's brilliant movie.

In the second episode of Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil (BBC2), which focused on the Greek financial crisis, the best and most mischievous recollections came from Nicolas Sarkozy, just as in the previous week.

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