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John Boland: Confronting the C word with honesty, bravery and hope


She shall overcome: comedian Anne Gildea in 'Breast Cancer: No Laughing Matter'.

She shall overcome: comedian Anne Gildea in 'Breast Cancer: No Laughing Matter'.

She shall overcome: comedian Anne Gildea in 'Breast Cancer: No Laughing Matter'.

Near the outset of Breast Cancer: No Laughing Matter (RTÉ Two), comedian Kevin Gildea said of his sister Anne that "doing this documentary has really helped her", while she herself acknowledged a couple of times throughout the film that she had resorted to "performing" for the camera.

As with her brother, that's what she does for a living, whether as a member of The Nualas or as a columnist for the Daily Mail, with a privileged access to newspapers, theatres, television studios and radio programmes that's denied to cancer sufferers who aren't celebrities and who thus don't have hour-long documentaries made about their plight.

In the event, though, she surmounted this potentially alienating obstacle with a bracing directness about the mastectomy that was to be her fate after she discovered a lump in her left breast last March.

Her treatment was in St James's Hospital, to which she went regularly for advance chemotherapy, then for the surgery and afterwards for radiation.

"It's a very weird thing," she said on one of her visits, "I really like this place, I feel safe here" -- a not-uncommon emotion in anyone for whom hospital care becomes a regular reality. And though she felt "mutilated" after the surgery, the tentative all-clear she got from her consultant made her feel "lucky".

The film portrayed one particular woman's reaction to her personal misfortune and it was hard to know how informative or useful or encouraging or alarming it may have been for any other woman faced with the same diagnosis, but Gildea was commendably honest about the process she went through and the fears it engendered. An impressive film, directed with tact by Libby McCormack.

"Maybe I've bitten off more than I can chew," former boxing champ Bernard Dunne conceded at the end of the first instalment of Bernard Dunne's Bród Club (RTÉ One), but the problem I felt was that I wasn't quite sure what he was meant to be chewing.

'Bród', for those not versed in the Irish language, means 'pride', and Bernard's mission in this do-goodery series is to make us proud about reacquainting ourselves with our native tongue -- which made it all the odder when Kevin Myers was given 60 seconds of screen time to assure viewers that Irish "has no real meaning in people's lives" and that "it's false and deluded to think that people are somehow more Irish when they learn Irish".

What was that contrarian spiel doing in a programme intent on promoting Irish as "part of who we are"? But then again, what was any of it about beyond showcasing Bernard's credentials as a down-home kind of guy who really, really cares about getting people to progress from the few sentences of Irish they learned at school.

To this end, he dropped in on a supper party in which a few middle-class women falteringly tried to converse in Irish and he stood grinning at the top of Grafton Street while a happy-clappy gospel choir entertained passers-by with an Irish-language version of U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'. But how was any of this advancing either the use of Irish or the viewer's interest in the matter? I haven't the foggiest.

Chronicling the impact of an inspirational teacher on his pupils, Ballymun Lullaby (RTÉ One) belonged to the school-of-uplift tradition that was pioneered by Goodbye Mr Chips and replicated in countless other movies from Blackboard Jungle, To Sir With Love and The Miracle Worker to Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and Dangerous Minds.

The teacher here was Ron Cooney, his subject was music and some of his young protegees in an area that still suffers from economic and social blight were utterly charming. But at almost 90 minutes, the film was twice as long as it should have been and at least one viewer was hard-pressed to stay the course.

Still, it was an original film, unlike RTÉ One's new series, Dead Money, which can best be described as Who Do You Think You Are? with a cash windfall at the end and which anyway has already been done in a cross-channel series about unwitting heirs to family fortunes.

The genealogical investigators in the RTÉ series are earnest, baldy brothers, Steven and Kit Smryl, and in this week's programme they were trying to trace the heirs of unmarried Dublin woman Maura Byrne.

They uncovered three beneficiaries of the hundred grand she'd left behind -- one of them through the simple expedient of looking up his name in the phone book. Cue smiling faces all round, though not from this reviewer, who keeps thinking that RTÉ should be coming up with less jaded ideas for series.

Dirk Gently (BBC4) is based on a deliberately far-fetched novel by the late Douglas Adams concerning a holistic detective agency. Fans of the cult author think it a hoot, though others may be less tolerant.

Certainly I'd no tolerance for the first instalment of this TV adaptation, which asked us to ignore such basic matters as plausible plotting and logical progressions in favour of unashamed whimsicality. It was extraordinarily tiresome and a rare misfire from this excellent channel.

Indo Review