Saturday 20 January 2018

Television: Crime film was worth a look but why hear it first?

Tragedy: Jeweller Dermot O'Toole and wife Bridget
Tragedy: Jeweller Dermot O'Toole and wife Bridget

John Boland

I know it's sometimes hard to fill a radio hour but RTÉ should really stop trying to do so by pillaging material from its own upcoming television shows.

Last Monday morning, Ryan Tubridy interviewed Bridget O'Toole on a phone link to Australia and her account of the murder of her husband and the attempted murder of herself in a jewel robbery was both horrifying and powerfully told.

For anyone who heard it, though, it considerably lessened the impact of that evening's Murder in Melbourne (RTÉ1), in which she was the main interviewee and recounted the same details of the same crime. Certainly, if I was the producer of this documentary, I wouldn't have been too happy about my RTÉ radio colleagues jumping the gun at such length.

Two other killings of Irish people featured in Ronan McCloskey's film, the most famous being the abduction and murder of Jill Meagher after a night out with friends in the summer of 2012. For reasons of their own, her husband and family chose not to participate in the film, though this meant that the section devoted to her killing had less emotional force than the other stories.

But the film was properly shocking in its exposure of the parole system that operates in Victoria, whereby serial violent offenders are released back into society to commit more of the same predictably ghastly crimes.

We have our own ghastly criminals, of course, as reporter Sarah O'Connor reminded us in Open Warfare: Ireland's Gangland Feud (UTV Ireland), which concerned the lethal rivalry between the Kinahan and Hutch families which resulted in the recent tit-for-tat Dublin killings.

Not that we needed reminding, and indeed the hour-long film told me nothing that I hadn't already known, and what it did tell was in the usual tabloid manner beloved of so much crime coverage on television.

No cliche was left unturned as O'Connor informed us that the Costa del Sol resort of Puerto Banus was not just "synonymous with wealth, nightlife and extravagance" and was the "ultimate play-den of the rich and famous" but also harboured a "darker side" beneath its "sunny surface".

And we also heard from crime reporter Mick McCaffrey that while older members of the warring families "lived by a code" whereby murdering people was "bad for business", the younger generation were "hotheads" and rows are now "sorted out by a gunshot".

We heard, too, that these thugs had "no respect for human life" (who'd have thought?) and that the gardai weren't "fully resourced" to cope with the ongoing crime spree, but we didn't hear anything that actually told us anything worth hearing.

Not that I learned a lot, either, from the second instalment of Fire in the Blood (RTÉ1), in which musician and broadcaster Fiachna Ó Braonáin told us of the life and career of Ireland's first president, Douglas Hyde.

Indeed, there's an air of the history class about this 1916 commemorative series, with each week's guest presenter seemingly chosen at random to relate the basic facts of the life of their allocated subject, while Fintan O'Toole is on hand to offer earnest insights. All very worthy, though with the sense of national boxes being dutifully ticked.

Siochanai: Sheehy-Skeffington (TG4) was more ambitious, or perhaps I just mean longer. This 50-minute profile of feminist, pacifist and journalist Frank Sheehy-Skeffington, who was plucked off a Dublin street during the Easter Rising and summarily executed on the orders of a man later declared to be insane, had a fascinating story to tell but dragged it out inordinately.

There were far too many dramatic re-enactments that seemed to have been filmed in slow motion and too many emotive lingerings over the fate of its main participants and the plight of his bewildered spouse. A well-edited half-hour would have had twice the impact.

House of Cards (Netflix) has returned for a fourth season and you can binge-watch all 13 episodes if that's your thing. It's not mine, especially when its two main protagonists are such horrible people.

"Chilling" and "reptilian" were Ryan Tubridy's words for them on radio this week, though he meant that as a compliment to the show's addictive power, whereas I've come to the conclusion that Frank and Claire Underwood's power-lusting venality, which was entertaining enough for a couple of seasons, has become cartoonishly repetitive.

Yes, the production values remain high, with every scene given a coolly sinister sheen, and there are some interesting new characters here, too, notably Neve Campbell's PR fixer and Cicely Tyson's old Texan congresswoman, but already I feel that by this stage, everyone's basically going through the old familiar motions.

Still, I've only watched one episode (I do have another life) and maybe I'll at least get to the reintroduction of Lars Mikkelsen as Vladimir Putin's fictional counterpart. Mikkelsen's lizardly condescension was so amusingly good last time around that perhaps he'll kick-start my interest all over again.

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