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'Resistance' battles gamely - but badly needs more thrills to win ratings war

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Brian Gleeson stars as an IRA fighter in RTÉ’s new historical drama about the War of Independence

Brian Gleeson stars as an IRA fighter in RTÉ’s new historical drama about the War of Independence

Brian Gleeson stars as an IRA fighter in RTÉ’s new historical drama about the War of Independence

"Detective Inspector - time to say your prayers." So begins the new season of 'Rebellion' (sorry, 'Resistance'), Colin Teevan's extravagant reconstruction of the Irish War of Independence.

The year is 1920. Jimmy Mahon (Brian Gleeson), an IRA hit-man, and his boys wait patiently on the side of a country road for their target. It's a cold November morning and Mahon, we presume, has been instructed to carry out an assassination. A carriage passes by. The getaway driver dangles a cigarette from the window of the car. Along comes the target, on foot, and away we go.

Mahon hesitates - his sidekick does not. Armed forces suddenly appear, and a chase ensues, during which Mahon suffers a gunshot wound to the side.

The action lasts just two minutes, but the message is clear: these are dangerous and divided times in Ireland, and Teevan, the writer and creator of RTÉ's new five-part drama 'Resistance' (which is, in fact, a follow-up to 'Rebellion') is in no mood to waste our time.

You might recall the furore over 2016's 'Rebellion'. One of the biggest criticisms of that sleepy and soapy drama about the 1916 Easter Rising was that it played fast and loose with historical facts. Still, people watched it.

I didn't care much for it. As a drama, it simply didn't work. It was a languid and surprisingly stiff affair. But there are, at least, some signs of life in 'Resistance'. Just some, mind.

We have several story strands to work with. Jimmy Mahon has been promoted. With the new, undercover job comes a new, secret identity. Alas, Mahon's brother Patrick (David Wilmot) is an officer for the Royal Irish Constabulary. That little family episode is not going to end well.

Michael Collins (Gavin Drea) has entered the fold and beginning to suspect there may be a rat in his squad. And, yet, there is another subplot that pulls us in, with Ursula Sweeney (the excellent Simone Kirby) as a code-breaker at Dublin Castle. Ursula's fiancé died when she was pregnant with the couple's first child and, as a result, the baby was taken from her and placed in a mother and child home.

When the cruel sisters refuse to return the boy to his mother, a desperate Ursula turns to the IRA for help. Now, this is a story. This is where the writing is strongest - the performances, too. Vince Pope's enchanting score takes care of the rest.

Are there historical inaccuracies? Maybe. But this isn't a documentary.

We're only here to tell you if 'Resistance' is any use. And it is - just about, anyway.

It isn't nearly as vital or as thrilling as it needs to be but there is something here. We'll give it another week, at least.

Irish Independent