Thursday 18 January 2018

Television: Death in Pemberly and some seasonal RTÉ paddywackery

Best Christmas telly drama: There was nothing to rival BBC’s ‘Death Comes to Pemberly’ for sheer substance
Best Christmas telly drama: There was nothing to rival BBC’s ‘Death Comes to Pemberly’ for sheer substance

John Boland

The year came to a close on RTÉ One with The Ultimate Gathering in College Green -- or, as Oliver Callan termed it an hour earlier: "Some token paddywhackery with Dáithí Ó Sé."

That gibe came in Callan Kicks the Year (RTÉ One), one of many such backward looks at 2013 on various channels, notably Channel 4, which offered an interminable hour of social media gaffes in 'Twit of the Year' and yet more dismally unamusing stuff in The 50 Funniest Moments of 2013, the title of which provided the only laugh.

Much better was Charlie Brooker's 2013 Wipe (BBC Two), if only because Brooker's beady take on media inanities can be bracingly scornful, but Callan's send-up of the last 12 months had some edge to it too, and some of his impersonations were wickedly good.

The show, written and directed by himself and James Cotter, was at its weakest when it attempted political satire, especially in over-extended sketches featuring Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin, though I liked James Reilly in Balbriggan-boosting conversation with a wheezing and puffing Marian Finucane.

But it was Finucane and other RTÉ figures who elicited the most chuckles of recognition: the "coma-inducing" drone of David Davin Power, the sing-song warblings of Pascal Sheehy as he chatted to the Healy-Raes, and the wheedling drawl of Miriam O'Callaghan as she offered encouragement to Dáithí Ó Sé.

The script seldom matched the impersonations, though there were gleeful swipes at Craig Doyle, Grainne Seoige and David McCullagh (whose career "has shot meteorically to the middle") and Callan got a lot of mischievous mileage out of a condescending Bryan Dobson and a robotic Sharon Ní Bheoláin.

All very incestuous, as is usual in such RTÉ shows, but with some welcome bite, too, even if there were few laugh-out-loud moments.

For substance, though, there was nothing to rival Death Comes to Pemberley (BBC One), which was adapted from PD James's novel and ran for an hour on three successive nights and was quite the best drama of the season -- indeed, one of the year's finest.

James's book posited a murder on the sumptuous estate of Darcy six years after he and Elizabeth Bennet married, with pride rearing its bothersome head yet again and prejudice everywhere to be encountered -- principally against Elizabeth's cad of a brother-in-law, Wickham, who was chief suspect for the killing of his army officer friend.

The adaptation worked brilliantly, both as a mystery and as a thriller, right down to a nail-biting race against time at the very end, but it also seemed so true to the characters of its central figures that only a diehard Jane Austen purist could fail to be persuaded by this imagining of their subsequent lives.

The first flush of passion long past, Anna Maxwell Martin's Lizzie was now a more watchful and sceptical woman, while her husband's aristocratic remoteness and faint air of disdain were subtly captured by Matthew Rhys. And they were admirably supported by the other players, notably Trevor Eve as a grizzled prosecutor who, burdened by his own family skeletons, seemed all too intent on jumping to wrong conclusions.

This superbly shot drama never put a foot wrong and nor for most of its length did The Thirteenth Tale, the BBC's other main seasonal drama -- until a twist too far diluted the impact of this unsettling gothic story, which was adapted from Diane Setterfield's 2006 bestseller.

Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman were the formidable leads in this tale of incest, madness and violent doings on a Yorkshire country estate, but the film was at its most potent when it lingered on Madeleine Power, who was unnervingly good playing two malevolent twin girls.

What is it with RTÉ and wedding planners? In the line of duty, I've already had to endure the fatuous twaddle of Don't Tell the Bride and have similarly suffered through Franc's DIY Brides, but seemingly there's no end to Montrose's obsession with nuptials, as evidenced by Mother of All Weddings (RTÉ One), in which mums of both partners devised all the details of the momentous day for their offspring.

Towards the end, the witless voiceover vouchsafed that when the happy couple learned they were being treated to a "tropical paradise" honeymoon, they couldn't "take their jaws off the floor", but that's where my jaw had been throughout the whole interminable hour.

In Mrs Brown's Boys New Year Special (RTÉ One/BBC Two), next-door neighbour Winnie got her face accidentally glued to the crotch of the spreadeagled Mrs Brown, who had just been having bowel emergencies from the previous night's curry. "Agnes", screeched Winnie, "me face is stuck to your knickers -- please don't fart!"

Seinfeld it ain't, but this show is clearly so critic-proof that anything goes -- in this episode when Rory's cellphone accidentally rang, the actors collapsed in a fit of giggles before reshooting the scene.

And yes, I did laugh out loud a few times, though I'm still bemused by the liberal use of four-letter words in a sitcom that's otherwise so old-fashioned as to be almost quaint. Still, Brendan O'Carroll would no doubt be the first to tell me that trillions of adoring viewers can't be wrong.

Irish Independent

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