Wednesday 25 April 2018

You're under arrest for being too oirish

Ken Bruen's website informs me that he's a "brilliant, lyrical, deeply moving writer whose characters are so sharply portrayed that they almost walk off the page".

Personally, I prefer fictional characters to stay on the page where I can see them, but I'd have been quite happy if all the characters in Jack Taylor (TV3), a television adaptation of Bruen's 2003 thriller, The Guards, had walked off the screen after 10 minutes and disappeared into the Corrib, on whose Galway city banks much of the film was set.

I haven't read the novel and thus don't know how true the film -- the pilot for a proposed series -- was to its plot, characters, mood and dialogue, but the three screenwriters hired for the adaptation certainly came up with a load of cobblers in which Oirishy clichés, farcical dialogue and ludicrous implausibilities all vied for dominance.

"I'm looking for my daughter Sarah," mysterious but alluring stranger Anne told disgraced ex-cop Jack when she approached him in his local bar. "She said she was on her way to Galway and at first she used to call me every few days."

Plainly Sarah must have been travelling either from Pluto or by snail, but Jack, who didn't bother inquiring where she was coming from and why she hadn't taken the train, took on the job anyway, whereupon Anne asked him "Why are you a drunk?" and Jack wittily replied "Why do you want a drunk to help you?"

Anne had no answer to that but already this viewer was sighing wearily at what was plainly in store for him over the next 100 or so minutes. And so it turned out as cut-rate hard-boiled banter -- much of it delivered by Jack in a voiceover reminiscent of Christy Moore in Lisdoonvarna mode -- accompanied daft plot-turns and inexplicable behaviour.

Halfway through, a friend texted me with the exclamation "Good Jesus!" and a confident prediction of the villain's identity, but it was so obvious that I thought he must be wrong. He wasn't.

Iain Glen, who had the hapless task of playing Jack, looked like an ageing Ronan Keating with a bad hangover, but even Galway, photographed in a perpetual drizzle, looked crap in a film that was clearly intended for the export market (it was made by Magma productions in co-operation with a German broadcaster).

The only spark in the whole thing was momentary -- a startling sneer by Jack at the expense of the G Hotel, which must have offended someone involved in the production. Maybe the proprietors had read the script.

But enough of this nonsense.

Easily the week's best programme came courtesy of Dervla Kirwan in the new BBC1 season of Who Do You Think You Are? I've never been a particular fan of this series (the recent American version was quite awful in its cloying sentimentality and theatrical phoniness), but I've been smitten by the Dublin-born actress ever since I saw her in the BBC adaptations of Billy Roche's The Wexford Trilogy back in the early 1990s and I've followed her television career with considerable interest (we'll call it interest) in the intervening years.

That didn't mean her contribution to Who Do You Think You Are? would be fascinating, but it was, partly because of her family background and partly because of the sense of genuine engagement she brought to her genealogical explorations.

Her great-grand-uncle on her mother's side was Michael Collins and although she'd known about that since childhood her palpable interest in learning the details was invigorating in a segment that also managed to provide a clear and concise history lesson. But it was her uncovering of facts about her Jewish great-grandfather on the other side of the family that proved to be wholly absorbing.

Perhaps I had a special interest here. My own grandfather on my mother's side, who died the year before I was born, arrived in Dublin in the early 20th Century and though my mother had always understood he was a Catholic from Vienna we now think he may have been Jewish and from Eastern Europe.

Dervla Kirwan's great-grandfather, Henry Kahn, came from Russian-governed Poland and married a young Catholic woman with whom he lodged in Aungier Street. "Great!" Dervla grinned on learning the news. "They were living together before they got married. Well, why buy a car before test-driving it, that's what I say." But the inter-faith marriage, she was told, would have seen him shunned by Dublin's Jewish community.

Worse, though, was to come. A tobacconist by trade, with a sideline in illegal betting, he was sentenced in 1902 to a year in prison for breaking a woman's shop window after a row, the judge informing him that "you are a specimen of your nation and your race that causes you to be hunted out of every country". This vicious anti-semitic tirade was recalled by Joyce in Ulysses, with Leopold Bloom hallucinating about being sentenced by the same notorious judge.

Henry Kahn died in St Brendan's asylum five years later at the age of 50. "He broke my grandfather," the actress observed of the malevolent judge. "He utterly destroyed him. And what was his crime? He was a betting man and he happened to be Jewish." This was a very moving film and it made me resolve to learn more about my own enigmatic antecedent.

If you can buy into the notion of Minnie Driver as a submarine commander, then BBC1's new drama series, The Deep, will be just your thing. James Nesbitt is her second-in-command, there's a motley crew on board and they're all trying to discover what happened to a vessel that vanished six months earlier 20,000 feet under the North Pole. Think of Alien. Think of The Abyss. Think, if you like, of The Old Dark House. Or maybe it will all turn out well. The first episode was quite exciting fun, anyway.

Finally, Vanished in the Mountains (TV3) recounted the 1990s disappearances of Annie McCarrick, Jo Jo Dullard and Deirdre Jacob. No one knows what happened to them and no new information was forthcoming in this film, which was stretched out to an hour with constant repetition of the few basic facts available to the gardai. The individual stories remained heartwrenching, but I couldn't see the point of the programme.

Irish Independent

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