Thursday 18 January 2018

TV Review: Jobs documentary was a chore, but JK's sleuths continue to delight

Kara Maher in Frock Finders
Kara Maher in Frock Finders

John Boland

My main problem with Philip Boucher-Hayes's film, What Are You Working For? (RTÉ1) is that I didn't know what it was about.

Was it about the varying levels of pay in the nation's two million jobs?

Well, that initially seemed to be the topic - we learned at the outset that if you earn €25,000 a year, you're worse off than 70pc of workers, while at €50,000, you're in the company of 50pc, and at €100,000 you're among a 5pc elite.

So money and its inequities appeared to be the film's focus, and to this end the presenter gathered a group of workers, who all sat around a table that was piled with banknotes (in case we didn't know what money looked like) and told him what they earned, how much of it went on tax and basic bills, and whether it was all worth their while.

One of them was a part-time retail worker who was only €15 a week better off working than on social welfare, but she favoured it because it meant she got out of the house and had social contact with her fellow workers.

So the film headed off in that direction, and indeed at the very end the presenter came to the conclusion that job satisfaction and the company of colleagues "add up to an awful lot more than the sum of our payslips".

But in the meantime, there were various other highways and byways to be explored and so we heard about the declining power of unions and about short-term contracts, public sector perks, gender inequalities and even the money that's to be made from aircraft leasing.

We also heard from an assortment of academic pundits (the film was coming down with PhDs), while Boucher-Hayes himself was in grandstanding mode. But the film itself was all over the shop.

Frock Finders (RTÉ1) was also all over the shop - or, rather, shops, as it scurried through fashion boutiques from Newcastle West and Tralee to Kinsale and Dublin. Along the way we met a variety of retailers, dress makers and customers, some of them quite engaging, though this first instalment seemed more interested in puffery than in substance.

Political activist and telecommunications entrepreneur Declan Ganley was on Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1) to say a few good words about George Hook, whose recent radio remarks about a rape victim have caused general outrage. "You could not find a more decent and fair broadcaster," Ganley said.

In the circumstances, that was brave of him, though when he confessed himself just as appalled by the implications of Hook's comments as everyone else, you wondered why he volunteered to speak in defence of a man he said he hardly knew.

Prime Time (RTÉ1) celebrated its 25th anniversary with a two-parter that featured earnest debate from panellists gifted with the power of hindsight and from selected members of the studio audience. It was all very worthy.

Peacemakers: Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs (BBC1) was an engrossing documentary about the women who came together in the mid-1990s to form the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, which then went on to win two seats in the 1996 Northern Ireland Forum elections.

The story was told partly through archive footage but largely through interviews with the women themselves, both Protestant and Catholic, who for decades had been enduring the violence perpetrated in a male-dominated society of great hatred and little room.

The two successful candidates, Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sagar, were eloquent in their recall, as were various other women from both sides of the divide, while there were good contributions, too, from Bernadette McAliskey, George Mitchell and Liz O'Donnell.

Adapted from a JK Rowling thriller, the recent three-part Strike: The Cuckoo's Calling (BBC1) has been one of the year's dramatic delights, largely through the sheer chemistry of Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger as private eye and sleuthing sidekick.

And now, hot on its heels, comes Strike: The Silkworm, which began last Sunday evening and ends tomorrow night. Here you have the sense of Rowling paying off some literary scores, with vain publishers, heartless agents and duplicitous authors all in the mix as possible killers of a writer who'd viciously satirised them.

But again it's Burke and Grainger who command the viewer's attention as their submerged feelings for each other get nearer to the surface. First, though, she'll have to ditch her nice but irredeemably wet fiancé. Maybe she'll manage to do that tomorrow night.

I've already ditched BBC1's new thriller Rellik, which sounds like a Scandinavian thriller but is actually 'killer' spelt backwards. Everything else is backwards, too, in a storyline told in reverse time - just like in Christopher Nolan's too-clever-for-its-own-good Memento and Gaspar Noé's repellent Irreversible.

Rellik, though, isn't even as distinctive as those two overrated movies and in the opening episode you may have found it hard to care as an acid-attack killer who was shot dead in the opening scene turned up alive in the next. There was also the spectacle of bullets flying back out of bodies, blood flowing back into wounds and raindrops falling upwards into clouds.

And for all its tricksiness, you were saddled with a drearily predictable main cop, all snarls, glowering looks and ponderous platitudes. Life's too short.

But I was sorry to see the end of From Russia to Iran: Crossing the Wild Frontier (Channel 4), in which ex-soldier and explorer Levison Wood travelled 4,000 miles across the Caucasus to the Caspian sea. He was an enterprising and engaging guide to an unfamiliar part of the world.

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