Sunday 15 September 2019

Television: No place for 'No' when it comes to marriage equality

Skewed history: RTÉ's The Story of Yes
Skewed history: RTÉ's The Story of Yes

John Boland

Aren't we the greatest little nation in the world? That was the underlying message of The Story of Yes (RTÉ2), a determinedly feel-good account of last year's marriage equality referendum.

Indeed, so intent was Hugh Rodgers' hour-long film on celebrating our embrace of social and sexual change that the strenuous efforts by the 'No' campaigners to ensure that such an embrace never happened barely got a look in, which must have been galling for them.

Yet while part of me says let them be galled (how is it anyone's business to meddle in the personal lives of other people?), it made for skewed history, with little mention and even less onscreen evidence of the rancorous arguments that dominated the airwaves in the spring of last year.

The rancour, some of it quite nasty, mainly came from those self-appointed guardians of traditional Catholic morality who sought to curtail the freedom of their fellow citizens, but they represented a sizeable minority of our population and to ignore their impact and their arguments, no matter how pettily expressed, was to distort the facts.

Instead, the film, in its almost happy-clappy way, chose to focus entirely on those who were personally invested in achieving change, and its overall mood was best exemplified by the fervent exclamations of gay activist Riyadh: "This is history that we're making here! Holy shit! This is heavy!"

He was an engagingly hyperactive presence, while there were winning contributions, too, from some of the gay couples who were interviewed - teenage Safia saying of Colm O'Gorman and his male partner: "In my eyes, they're just my parents" and Moninne recalling that the birth of her daughter with partner Clodagh "was the best day of our lives".

There were a few darker memories - Anna musing on the 'No' campaign's posters ("having your life debated on a lamp post") and her partner Aoife recalling that "you're waiting for a whole country to make a judgment on who you are - it's a bizarre thing".

But a kind of giddiness prevailed throughout as we were invited to congratulate ourselves on our enlightened liberalism and generosity of spirit. Tell that to the homeless and all those other people who remain marginalised and ignored in our caring society.

Last week's Mara: A Legacy (RTÉ1) could have been interesting if its makers had bothered to examine the often murky role of political spin doctors, but I could see no point at all to this week's Wogan: A Legacy on the same channel.

The BBC broadcaster died less than four months ago and his passing was marked at the time by extensive obituaries, reminiscences and encomiums both here and across the water, where his death occasioned national mourning. No one had a bad word to say about him, probably because there wasn't anything bad to be said, so why devote yet another star-struck tribute to him now?

We got predictable old guff from peers and pretenders, some of it self-serving and the rest mostly on the level of Gloria Hunniford's recollection of "a deeply intelligent man" and Mike Murphy's "he was always a bit of gas". You don't say.

John McEntee, who was a friend, struck a warmer note, but nothing got said throughout the whole hour that hadn't been better said when Wogan died at the end of January.

Wild Cities (RTÉ1), which had already devoted programmes to Galway and Dublin, was in Cork this week, where its presenter was environmental scientist Tara Shine.

Very engaging she was, too, as she ranged from grebes to mallards, hares to herons, bats to terrapins and old cemeteries to disused railway stations.

And I liked that, amid all the informational titbits she imparted, she not only had a point of view about the impact of human selfishness and thoughtlessness on the wildlife of our cities, but that she also refrained from soapbox moralising.

This engrossing film also owed much to the camera work of Domenico Pontillo and director Gerry Nelson, both of whom captured arrestingly beautiful images throughout the whole hour.

More grainy, though still striking, was the footage shown in Badoiri (TG4), a half-hour labour of love by Joe St Leger, who more than 30 years ago began photographing and filming those famed west of Ireland sailing vessels known as Galway hookers.

Poet Richard Murphy, who owned one such boat when he lived in Cleggan, wrote a memorable early poem called 'The Last Galway Hooker'. That wasn't mentioned here, but St Leger's film was a fine elegy for the passing of a way of life, and while some of these marvellous boats, which once ferried necessary goods to Aran islanders and other remote outposts, have been restored in recent years, they now function merely as pleasure craft.

First Dates Ireland (RTÉ2), which ended this week, was a slavish replica of the Channel 4 original, yet managed to have a rather sweet personality of its own. This was down to the well-chosen pairings rather than to the philosophising of the resident maitre d', who was no more than a pale imitation of the Channel 4 guy.

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