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RTE's 'Charlie' was deja vu all over again

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Last night we tuned into the much-publicised first installment of RTE's 'Charlie'. It was a lavish production, befitting the man's lifestyle and exalted opinion of himself.

Last night we tuned into the much-publicised first installment of RTE's 'Charlie'. It was a lavish production, befitting the man's lifestyle and exalted opinion of himself.

Last night we tuned into the much-publicised first installment of RTE's 'Charlie'. It was a lavish production, befitting the man's lifestyle and exalted opinion of himself.

It is an ultimate irony that politicians who are obsessed with defining their own legacy are eventually destroyed by their venal fixation to be loved by those that they govern. Last night, we tuned in to the much-publicised first instalment of RTE's 'Charlie", written by Colin Teevan. It was a lavish production, befitting the man's lifestyle and exalted opinion of himself. The production values of 'Charlie' are more the 'Downton Abbey' that he aspired to than the 'Fair City' that he came from.

To a certain generation, Charles J Haughey will ever be remembered as an uber-vain, self-obsessed, archetypal villain. A man entirely consumed with his own image and desperate to advance through the political system to attain supremacy by whatever means available to him.

With an ambition built of titanium, he navigated an extraordinary path to power. His decline, however, was to prove as spectacular as his meteoric rise. It may be the case that history will be kinder to the man but for now his reputation remains mired in the mud of Tribunal revelations.

Judging by the first episode and Aidan Gillen's portrayal of Haughey, this three- part miniseries is set to compound rather than challenge the current narrative. With some cracking one liners, Gillen delivered a solid, underplayed performance and avoided sliding into the stereotypical caricature of Haughey which is often presented.

Politics, it is said, is show business for ugly people, and is it full of characters who are bursting with ambition but lack blockbusting personalities. Besides Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera, there have been no other post-independence Irish political figures who have a back-story interesting enough to merit dramatisation on this scale.

The complex tapestry of Haughey's life provides more than enough material for producers and actors to sink their teeth into. Haughey, a man whose favourite pastime seemed to be commissioning portraits of himself, might have even secretly enjoyed the idea of the dramatisation of his life, although maybe not the content.

It is widely acknowledged that politically speaking he was immensely loyal to those around him, until as the late Brian Lenihan Snr discovered, events required otherwise. A mock-chieftain, he loved the power of patronage, and the loyalty of followers who were never treated as equals.

Even with those that he liked and trusted, Haughey's famously coarse invective was used liberally, as it was, at times, with journalists. With a voracious appetite for work, he rose through the ranks of the Fianna Fail party and courted backbenchers assiduously. It was the formulation of such co-dependent relationships that gave him the sense of power that he relished. In those early years, he enjoyed a reputation for being efficient, effective and ever-so polite. It was a world away from the waspish demeanour displayed in his final years of public life, when he appeared intolerant, dismissive, petulant and rude.

Haughey was acutely aware of the power of propaganda. Despite this recognition, he remained deeply suspicious of the media throughout his career. Consumed by a persecution complex, and paranoid with suspicion, he rarely gave media interviews. While he navigated the corridors of power with ease, his public image was not as straightforward.

Defined and managed by others, the real Haughey was kept at arm's length where possible.

Tom Vaughan-Lawlor gave a tour de force performance as PJ Mara, and whilst he may not have captured the erudite and urbane nature of the man entirely, he certainly conveyed that he is politically astute and was an integral part of Haughey's success.

The combination of the Haughey saga with actors like Gillen and Vaghan-Lawlor, made popular by 'Love/Hate', this mini- series may well introduce Charles J Haughey to a new generation. But it is the story of a man that we already know told in a different way, a case of deja vu all over again. Whether it titillates a wider modern audience remains to be seen but it will certainly be compulsive viewing for political anoraks of all persuasions.

Irish Independent