Entertainment TV Reviews

Sunday 21 January 2018

RTE's Rebellion 'visibly creaking under the weight of its own daft expectations'

* Rebellion, RTE One
* Comic Strip Presents: Red Top, GOLD

Historical fiction: Perdita Weeks as Vanessa and Sarah Greene as May in RTE's 'Rebellion'
Historical fiction: Perdita Weeks as Vanessa and Sarah Greene as May in RTE's 'Rebellion'
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

'Which one of you gunslingers is going to ask me to dance?"

That infamous line from Neil Jordan's Michael Collins was always going to reverberate through the creaky corridors of the Rebellion script. Indeed, I reckon the only reason we haven't heard something so laughably absurd is because the writers felt they didn't want to steal someone else's gems, rather than because it remains one of the worst lines ever uttered in the history of Irish cinema.

Rebellion is one of those programmes which was always going to elicit a response that would be at least as interesting as the show itself. Little did we know just how much more interesting the reactions would be.

To say Rebellion is dull is to do dull a grave and legally actionable disservice.

Unless you've been living in a cellar with ear plugs made out of the Proclamation over your head for the last month, you're no doubt aware that Rebellion is RTE's big contribution to this year's marking of the centenary.

As such, it is self-consciously Serious TV. And like all things which consider themselves to be Serious TV, it is visibly creaking under the weight of its own daft expectations.

But then, I suppose there is no shortage of daft doing the rounds in this country at the moment as people who haven't opened a history book since their school days are now coming over as pedantic amateur historians, eager to pick holes in the programme.

Of course, something which tries so hard to be serious will never please all of the people all of the time.

So it is, in a weird way, a testament to the producers that they have actually managed to come up with a show that has pleased none of the people none of the time.

While memories of Michael Collins the movie are inevitable, I've also been reminded of a long forgotten episode of Young Indiana Jones where the young Indy stops off in Dublin during the Rising.

He met a comely maiden in that legendarily bad - but strangely entertaining - episode but the mystery is why he only met the one.

Because if Rebellion is to be believed, it was good-looking mna na hEireann who provided the impetus for the events of that time. That's fair enough, even if it is factually dubious. After all, women have been all too frequently written out of history, both here and abroad. So when a fictional drama decides to focus on some imaginary women, who are we to argue?

Of course, that's the least of the show's problems.

No, the problems lie with the script, dialogue, acting and directing.

It's nice to see so many characters from Love/Hate getting a bit of work again but you know there's something rank about a project when talents like Ruth Bradley and Charlie Murphy, who are both luminous screen presences, come across as so thoroughly dull and laughably unrealistic.

Bradley, in particular, is a fine actress but here she just comes across as someone suffering from stomach cramps.

The whole gobsmackingly awful affair has so far carried all the gravitas of an episode of Hollyoaks written by Naomi Wolf, and at one point, when Bradley was giving another stern talking to some lily livered man who didn't fancy being shot by the Brits, I was reminded of Harrison Ford's famous line to George Lucas: "You can write this shit, but you can't say it."

But as badly misfiring as Rebellion may be, some viewers have been just as bad.

This is not an historical recreation based on all available records, it is a drama, albeit a very unsuccessful one. That's why real life has provided moments of light relief which, I imagine, are beyond their writer's skill set.

After all, who didn't laugh when an Irish history teacher complained this week that she wouldn't be able to show the programme to her pupils because it contained a... sex scene?

It was a very mild sex scene, with no good bits - as we used to say - but if that was the major stumbling block for a history teacher, it's no wonder we're so ignorant of our own past.

The accents were all over the place and one minor character boasted a Dubbalin accent so utterly bogus that it was impossible not to snigger.

Similarly, I doubt phrases like 'refugees' and 'war zone' were in common parlance 100 years ago but if I had to say something in its favour, I suppose it would be to point out that anything so roundly condemned from all points on the political divide at least earns brownie points for mischief - even if said mischief is entirely unintentional.

Let's put it this way, if you were ever hoping to see an origin story for Fair City (and who hasn't?) then this would probably fit the bill. In fact, this one of those programmes that isn't even so bad it's good. It's just bad.

Ironically, there were more laughs in Rebellion The Serious TV Drama than there were in Comic Strip Presents: Red Top, although at least the laughs in the latter were intended.

The British tabloid hacking scandal is so vast, so intellectually corrupt and so morally bankrupt that it could probably declare to play for Ireland.

Like some of our own myriad scandals, it was one of those situations where people just couldn't get their heads around the sheer magnitude of the whole thing.

Which is where satire comes in and few British directors do satire quite like Peter Richardson and the Comic Strip team, which have now been churning out brilliant slices of coruscating, incisive madness since I was a kid.

Taking the events of the hacking scandal and moving them to the groovy 70s (and why not? Everything else about the SNAFU is bonkers, anyway), we see Maxine Peake knock it out of the park as duplicitous, and possibly criminally insane, Rebekah Brooks, who travels around on roller skates and is one of the most truly terrifying creations to appear in a comedy in a long time.

Frankly, it was like Queenie from Blackadder had come to life, except this wasn't real life. Or was it?

Amidst some of the typically brilliant bits of minutiae (David Cameron being ordered to remove his shoes in the presence of Rupert Murdoch, only to be humiliated by a hole in his sock) and fine performances, particularly from Jonny Vegas as a downtrodden hack who develops a conscience, this was stuck somewhere between angry polemic and comic potential.

You don't have to be a media junkie to enjoy Comic Strip Presents: Red Top, but it sure helps, although the blistering portrayal of the painfully right-on Guardian offices remains one of the best things I've seen on screen in a long time - particularly the line that they're so middle class even the black girls are called Emma.

There's a lot to recommend it, there really is. But this is one Comic Strip which will probably go down as a curiosity rather than a collector's item.

Irish Independent

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