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Blathnaid's battle with Europe

THE most surprising thing about writer Antoine O Flatharta's political comedy Crisis Eile, a follow-up to last year's well-received An Crisis, is that it stars Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh.

The second most surprising thing is that she's rather good in it. She's comfortably cast in this broad and very funny mix of high farce and low slapstick, spiked with well-aimed barbs at EU bureaucracy, Irish political dynasties, pompous Irish-language speakers and a certain low-cost airline.

She plays Maeve Kelly Clarke, a vain, preening, bungling ex-Minister for Transport, dripping with the sense of entitlement from following in her TD father's footsteps, who's been appointed Ireland's commissioner for culture, heritage and multilingualism.

"Farewell to the pygmies in the Dail and hello Europe!" she parps as her Brussels-bound plane takes off -- but only after a humiliating experience at Dublin Airport, where she and her "Chef de Cabinet" Ciaran (the excellent Conor MacNeill), a jumped-up little arse of a man forever banging the drum for the Irish language, have been booked into cattle class with budget outfit Doyleair.

When Ciaran is hit for €150 in excess baggage charges, plus €15 more for paying with a credit card, he reduces the blameless check-in girl to tears. Enter Paddy Doyle (Denis Conway), the shirt-sleeved head of Doyleair, who mercilessly patronises Ciaran: "Are you going over on a school trip?"

When Ciaran points out his lofty position, Doyle sneers: "Sure what would I know? I'm only an ignorant bogman who runs one of Europe's most profitable airlines."

Once in Brussels, Maeve finds her prized possession, a framed portrait of her beloved daddy ("The anchor of my life"), has been lost in transit, prompting Ciaran to fire off a series of increasingly snotty emails to Doyleair. Her bubble is immediately burst when she's informed her supposedly cushy brief also includes "climate action", the poisoned chalice nobody wants.

Then she's saddled with an eccentric, multicultural back-up team that includes a ferociously humourless PR woman called Ana Conda (Fair City's Helen Norton), whose withering gaze could cow a bull at 20 yards, and gormless young German Peter (Jamie O'Neill), who has a boy scout's dedication to saving the environment: "I've set up a climate action Twitter feed -- 166 followers already!" Mere chaos turns to disaster, however, when Ciaran's insistence that the team conduct business through Irish, "an official working language of the EU", necessitates bringing in a translato, a mauve-suited prima donna who refuses to work unless he's provided with €100-a-bottle mineral water.

Half an hour before Maeve's maiden press conference, the translator tumbles off a faulty chair and chokes to death on a sweet. "I don't want body bags all over the place," wails Maeve, insisting the team hide Yannick in a filing cabinet until the press have left.

There are moments when Crisis Eile perhaps sways a little too heavily towards the consciously absurd (the Doyleair automated message which tells callers looking for a refund to "f**k off", for instance), but it's fast, freewheeling, funny and had me in stitches much of the time.

The excellent Spies of Warsaw concluded with a classic trope of spy fiction: a train ride to freedom fraught with danger and tension.

As German tanks roll into Warsaw, French agent Mercier (David Tennant), whose superiors refused to believe it would happen, Anna (Janet Montgomery) and a motley group flee the country with Poland's entire gold bullion reserve hidden aboard.

In a rare moment of optimism in a drama that's been shrouded in shadows and a mounting sense of impending doom, they see off a group of bandits in a ferocious gun battle and make it across the border.

But the climax was tinged with melancholy. Mercier's notions about honour have been ruthlessly ripped to pieces as he realises he's been as much of a pawn as anyone.

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This was a terrific piece of grown-up drama, gripping, atmospheric, intelligently written and strikingly acted.

Thank God for what's left of BBC4.