Wednesday 21 February 2018

Reviews: Women on the Inside, Fearghal Quinn: Supermarket Revolutionary, The Imelda May Show, Scannal

The Imelda May Show, RTÉ
The Imelda May Show, RTÉ

John Boland

As the first instalment of Women on the Inside (RTE1) ended, Jenny was being released from Mountjoy jail's Dóchas Centre and the camera crew accompanied her down the street.

According to a prison officer, the short trip from the main gate to the city centre often decided a released prisoner's future.

The omens certainly weren't looking good for 37-year-old Jenny, who immediately bought a naggin of Jameson ("I'm a posh alcoholic", she wryly observed) and got into conversation with a guy not likely to enhance her prospects of remaining free for very long.

But then maybe she didn't want to. Having nonchalantly confessed earlier to 347 previous convictions for petty crimes, she's been in and out of prison for most of her life.

Officer Dunne, who's one of her guardians in the women-only Dóchas Centre, thought her "happier here than outside because she knows she's safe, she's fed, she's medically looked after".

Not that Jenny always sees it that way. "You're in a prison full of people and you still feel sad and lonely", she noted before declaring: "I'm amazed I'm still alive - my life is f**ked".

So, currently at any rate, is Margaret, a 51-year-old from Trinidad, who, lured by the prospect of instant money to support her children, agreed to act as a drug mule into Dublin. The decision proved disastrous for her, as it did for Maria from Bolivia, who was being deported from jail as this two-part series was filmed.

What I liked most about this opening instalment, shot and directed by Traolach Ó Buachalla, was that it avoided any temptation to be either sensationalistic or judgmental.

It mostly let the participants do the talking - not just the hapless inmates but also the female prison officers, who seemed to genuinely care about the women prisoners, despite the abuse frequently dished out to them.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by this (blame it on all those prison movies featuring sadistic guards), but I was genuinely surprised by the opening statistic which revealed that out of 4,000 people currently incarcerated in Irish jails, only 160 are women.

Most of them are in the Dóchas centre, with some more in the antiquated Limerick facility, of which Una, who's serving a 10-year sentence for manslaughter, declared: "Nobody deserves Limerick jail". She spent the first part of her time there: "I didn't see the daylight for 17 months".

The film could have been deeply depressing and in some ways it was - how could it not be when the common thread running through most of its stories was one of deprivation, addiction and homelessness? But the women themselves had a vibrancy that their unfortunate circumstances and their foolish actions (mostly petty thievery) hadn't obliterated.

And there was a distinct sense of realism too. Mother-of-three Christina, who's been homeless since her teenage years, acknowledged that "if you've nothing out there, you have things in here - you have a shower, you have your mates".

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why she's been a repeat offender. As officer Dunne predicted of the departing Jenny: "She'll do something on purpose so she can come back".

But if this was a story of failed lives, the documentary profile, Feargal Quinn: Supermarket Revolutionary (TV3) was all about success, recounted by its makers in adoring tones.

"A great father", the narrator marvelled. "A popular boss", he raved. And, as if that weren't enough, he gushingly assured us that "getting it right is something Feargal Quinn has been doing his whole life".

Getting it right in a TV profile is clearly a trickier matter and while I've no reason to doubt that the current senator and former boss of Superquinn is a truly admirable person, I could have done with an account of his career that was less effusively intent on making up my mind for me.

I could also have done without Nora Owen who, at frequent intervals, was required to sit in a grandiose library room opposite Quinn and put some archly admiring questions to him. Who on earth thought that was a good idea?

But if this was a prime example of unabashed hagiography, this week's edition of Scannal (RTE1) was an exercise in sneering.

Its subject was the calamitous 2001 interview given by former Fianna Fáil minister Joe Jacob to Marian Finucane about his government's readiness for any nuclear disaster that might befall the country. Various media pundits were on hand to scoff at the memory of his ineptitude.

There's never anything edifying about watching fish being gleefully shot in a barrel and I found the tone of this programme so cheaply derisive that I ended up sympathising with its victim, whose family must have been upset by its shallow mockery.

Last winter, Imelda May hosted an RTE1 music extravaganza that was as notable for its liveliness as for the often awkward interviewing style of its presenter, and both of these traits were evident again in the same channel's The Imelda May Show, which will run for three more weeks.

The gaucheness was most evident in her chat with Donal Lunny, Zoe Conway and Máirtín O'Connor, which never really went anywhere, but I enjoyed her banter with Jools Holland (mostly the latter). He's someone I can normally take or leave, but he clearly was enjoying himself in her company. It made for a winning few minutes.

The Dublin rockabilly singer also featured in Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1), in which she duetted with the great Smokey Robinson. That was the only pleasure I got from the opening instalment of this show's new season - beyond gratitude that I was witnessing the departure of Bruce Forsyth, who seems to be adored by the plain people of England (and perhaps even Scotland, too) but whom I've always regarded as a dreadful old ham.

As for the show itself, I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than watch it, and the same goes for The X Factor, which proves either that there's something wrong with me or that there's nowt so queer as folk.

I'm plumping for the latter.

Fancy a Scandinavian Miss Marple?

Although made in Sweden, Crimes of Passion (BBC4) is no Wallander- more like Agatha Christie, actually, though with a slim, youngish blonde as the Scandinavian counterpart to elderly Miss Marple.

It all takes place in idyllic 1950s rural landscapes, but that's as interesting as it gets, the plots being laughably contrived and the acting desultory at best and entirely wooden at worst.

Meanwhile, The Suspicious Mr Whicher (UTV) has returned, with Paddy Considine as the decent and dogged ex-policeman pursuing villains through the dark streets of Victorian London - so dark that you've trouble making out what anyone is up to.

There were good performances in this week's first of two instalments and Considine is a likeably unfussy presence, though he could do with a few eccentricities.

Sherlock it certainly ain't.

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