Thursday 14 December 2017

Stark contrasts of two women facing their own grim realities


Hard knocks: Dolores Keane in Dublin in 1991
Hard knocks: Dolores Keane in Dublin in 1991
Jackie Crowe from 'Jackie's Story'

John Boland

Two-thirds of the way through Dolores Keane: A Storm in the Heart (RTÉ1), in which the Galway singer spoke of her battles with alcohol, depression and breast cancer, she recalled touring in Denmark just seven days after giving birth to her daughter.

"That was hard going as well," she said, and by this stage in the proceedings the viewer could only concur. This is not to take away from the traumas – some of them self-inflicted – the singer endured for most of the last two decades, but the overall mood was so relentlessly woebegone that the film became something of an endurance test.

All what was missing was a deeply concerned Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh to wheedle from Keane more heartfelt confessions of despair and perhaps a few tears as well. Certainly, there was enough misery here to fill a series of Ní Chofaigh interviews.

"I've been through the mill a bit," the singer declared at the outset, but she was only getting started because she then told us of dire medical predictions when she was pregnant with her first child, of suicidal thoughts that stemmed from these prognoses, and of how her son was born with a rare medical condition that led to obesity and impaired vision.

Yet despite this debilitating condition, it was Keane herself who "was suffering more – I hurt more than he did," and this, along with the break-up of her marriage to fellow musician John Faulkner, was one of the reasons she started drinking heavily.

She did this "to be able to get on stage" but it "took its toll" ("You're dying inside") and there were times when she was "so down I wouldn't want to get up". Indeed, "I couldn't care less if I lived or died."

These were honest admissions, but in a film that didn't seek the views of anyone else, whether family or friends or other musicians, their self-absorbed nature gradually became somewhat wearisome.

By contrast, the main person in Jackie's Story (TV3), who faces even grimmer realities than Dolores Keane, was heroically stoical about the certainty of her early demise. And the film itself, made by Lydia Murphy and Francis Fitzgibbon, was all the more powerful for the quiet restraint of its telling.

Jackie Crowe was 49 when she was diagnosed last year with terminal cancer.

Separated and with a 21-year-old son in America, she lives near Tralee with her daughter Rebecca, whose hairdressing course in Limerick she has been funding.

However, she was made redundant from her job two years ago and fell behind on her mortgage protection payments, which means that on her death Rebecca won't have the €110,000 mortgage written off, even though a mere €244 is owed.

When Jackie was diagnosed with three tumours (the doctor telling her so offhandedly "he could have been a dentist telling me I needed three fillings"), she suffered a delay of seven weeks in getting scans and chemotherapy treatment and she was told little to nothing about the possibility of specialist care.

Yet throughout the film, whether visiting an undertaker or having a weekend break with her daughter, she remained almost serene in the face of adversity.

By the end, you were left feeling you'd met a remarkably nice and brave person.

The School Around the Corner (RTÉ1) has returned, and while I don't have especially fond memories of Paddy Crosbie's tenure as host, at least that ancient weekly vehicle was a little less contrived than Ray D'Arcy's over-produced version, in which most of the repartee has the air of being studiously rehearsed.

"What is love?" Ray asked young Ben. "No idea", Ben shrugged, whereupon his friend Garret interjected "I've been there, Ben, I've been there." If that's not planned spontaneity, put me in the dunce's corner.

The Genealogy Roadshow (RTÉ1) has returned, too, and its first instalment was as engaging and interesting as I recall from its initial outing last year. Turtle Bunberry, whose name makes him sound like Bertie Wooster's country cousin, was absorbing as he related what had happened to a couple who, given a passage to Argentina with their eight children in 1889, were left stranded and penniless on the Buenos Aires quayside.

From the makers of last year's Inside Claridge's, Copacabana Palace (BBC2), about the Rio de Janeiro hotel made famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the musical Flying Down to Rio, was just as engrossing.

We met camp Sao Paolo hairdesser Marco, who regularly stays in one of the €800-nightly suites, and the even more camp British businessman Ben, who stays for long periods with his little doggie Lady Bella, who has her own eau de cologne, shampoo and conditioner.

And we met chambermaid Viviane, who's paid €70 a week and who, when she's not making up beds for the rich and famous, lives in a ramshackle favela room with her three children and dodges bullets on her way to work.

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