Tuesday 20 March 2018

The accent is decidedly Irish in gripping Stephen King thriller

Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway in Mr Mercedes
Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway in Mr Mercedes

John Boland

When The Hunt for Red October was premièred in 1990, Sean Connery was asked why he had chosen to play the Russian submarine commander with a pronounced Edinburgh accent. "Shure if I didn't", he replied, "I wouldn't have known who I was".

Was this in Brendan Gleeson's mind when he accepted the role of retired cop Bill Hodges in the television adaptation of Stephen King's Mr Mercedes (RTÉ1) - a role, incidentally, for which King always had Gleeson in mind when writing this detective story?

Certainly Gleeson's Dublin accent is almost defiantly to the fore as Ohio-based cop Hodges finds himself haunted by a case he'd never solved: the slaughter of 16 people who'd been queuing for admission to a jobs fair when they were mown down by someone in a stolen Mercedes.

Given recent similar motorised atrocities in Nice, London and Barcelona, the murderous opening scene was hard to watch, but then the pilot episode took a breather, introducing us to the unkempt, grouchy and socially adrift Hodges as he tried to make sense of his post-work life.

In his portrayal of this cranky but likeable man, Gleeson has seldom been better, and there's fine support from Holland Taylor (Charlie Sheen's mother in Two and a Half Men) as similarly aged next-door neighbour Ida with whom he constantly bickers but who's just as lonely as himself.

And Harry Treadaway is chillingly persuasive as alienated young electrical goods employee Brady, who lives in a semi-incestuous relationship with his alcoholic mother and who starts sending Hodges taunting posts about the murderous events of two years earlier.

There are nine more episodes to go, but RTÉ1 is to be commended for snapping up a series that looks as if it will reward our perseverance.

No thanks, though, to RTÉ2 for its acquisition of Mammon, a Friday night Norwegian thriller about political and financial skulduggery that signally failed to thrill in its opening episodes. And no thanks, either, to BBC4, the pioneer of Scandi dramas, for its latest offering, Black Lake, in which eight charmless young Swedes decide to have a booze-and-bonking weekend in an isolated ski lodge where something dreadful happened 20 years earlier.

Things go bump in the night (and not just from all the bonking), people wake up with bloodshot eyes and a feeling of strangulation, and a sinister caretaker wanders around refusing to answer any questions. That could all be fun in a slasher movie kind of way, but the principals are so unlikeable that you don't really care.

Nor did I much care for the first instalment of Electric Dreams (Channel 4), a sci-fi series based on stories by Philip K Dick. Here we had Holliday Grainger as a woman gifted/cursed with telepathic powers who was helping the cops ferret out society's troublemakers.

Think Minority Report and think, too, of Dick's own Blade Runner, though visually this was a cut-price version of the Ridley Scott movie. And a cut-price version also of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror series, which at least was filmed with panache and had some haunting storylines.

No, the only real interest lay in comparing Grainger's muted turn here with her lovely performance in Strike: The Silkworm (BBC1), whose final episode was screened at the same time on the same night. Now that was a pleasure.

Having made heavy weather of inequalities in Eva Orsmond's documentary, Ireland's Health Divide, and in Philip Boucher-Hayes's equally fatuous What Are You Working For?, RTÉ1 completed its socially concerned trilogy with The Classroom Divide, in which Joe Duffy fretted about education anomalies.

At least Duffy avoided grandstanding while pointing out that even now, 50 years after Donogh O'Malley introduced free secondary education, only 25pc of teenagers in working-class areas go on to third-level colleges (it was 1pc in the Ballyfermot of his own schooldays), while 80pc in middle-class areas do so.

The film considered such factors as geographic disadvantage, accommodation and transport costs, and the low social status from which vocational apprenticeships still suffer, and by the end you felt you'd learned quite a lot.

Bridget and Eamon (RTÉ2) returned for a new season and the one-liners were as rib-tickling as ever. "I made a cake", said Bridget's mother (Deirdre O'Kane) "because I know you can't bake for shite". She then praised the tongue technique of her new Turkish toyboy: "I've never been cleaner, front and back", while Bridget observed "Mammy's lost her mind from getting her hole".

Not to be outdone, Eamon was with mammy upstairs when the Turkish toyboy burst into the room, causing a startled Eamon to apologise: "I didn't mean to spit in your face, I was just trying to ride your missus."

For this we pay our licence fee.

I have two questions regarding Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates's hosting of The Tonight Show, which began on TV3 this week. Why does it take two people to replace Vincent Browne? And why are both of them men - and men of not dissimilar attitudes and broadcasting styles?

Indeed, if TV3 decrees that this current affairs show must be fronted by two men, why not either Yates or Cooper with Al Porter, who was one of this week's guests and who has shown himself to be articulate, sensible and commendably sparky and just might appeal to younger viewers who are weary of the same old prognostications from the same old players?

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