Sisters In Arms

It’s the first Sunday of 2016 and already the broadcasters are wheeling out the big guns.

On BBC1, Andrew Davies’ six part adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ boasted gorgeous Russian locations, Lily James, James Norton, Paul Dano, Jim Broadbent, Gillian Anderson and Stephen Rea.

Channel 4 aired the much trumpeted eight episode Cold War spy drama from German broadcaster RTL ‘Deutschland 83’.

Meanwhile in Ireland, RTE was expecting huge audiences for its centrepiece Easter Rising drama ‘Rebellion’ which began a five episode run, with the promise of another season if it works.

A co-production with the Sundance Channel in the US, ‘Rebellion’ comes from the imagination of Colin Teevan who last year gave us ‘Charlie’, RTE’s manic dash through the career of Ireland’s most divisive politician Charles J Haughey.

But whereas that show tried to compress a rich and controversial political career into three one-and-a-half hour films, Teevan and Finnish director Aku Louhimies have opted to take a ‘Strumpet City’ approach to 1916.

They do not focus on a major historical figure like Padraig Pearse, James Connolly or Countess Markievicz over the five episode run – although all three popped up over the course of the first episode.

Louhimies and Teevan have chosen instead to focus on ordinary people swept up in the events leading to The Rising.

The opening episode begins in August 1914, with a blast of ‘The Mikado’, the declaration of the First World War – marked by the pealing of Dublin church bells – and then a verse of ‘God Save The King’.

And while the first episode of ‘Rebellion’ gives us that firm staple of historical dramas – brothers on opposite sides of history in the form of Brian Gleeson’s republican socialist Jimmy Mahon and Barry Ward’s First World War soldier Arthur – where it really scores is its interest in the women involved in the Rising.

In particular, considerable time is spent following the women playing the three little maids in the production of ‘The Mikado’ – Charlie Murphy’s Elizabeth Butler, Ruth Bradley’s Frances O’Flaherty and Sarah Greene’s Cork-born May Lacy.

Elizabeth defies her moneyed parents – Michelle Fairley’s Dolly Butler and Ian McElhinney’s Edward – by concealing weapons in the family home for James Connolly’s Irish Citizens Army.

Ruth Bradley’s dedicated republican Frances O’Flaherty works alongside the Irish Republican Brotherhood and ferries a document to Marcus Lamb’s Padraig Pearse stolen from Dublin Castle by May.

May is torn between patriotism and the affair she is having with her English civil servant boss, Tom Turner’s Charles Hammond who is married to Perdita Weeks’ Vanessa.

Appalled by his brother’s involvement in the Irish Citizen’s Army, Arthur Mahon kicks Jimmy out of their Dublin tenement, berating him for enjoying the benefits of the King’s shilling while he earns it being shot at by Turks.

Visually, ‘Rebellion’ is a handsome period drama – with cinematographer Tim Fleming’s work reminiscent of Chris Menges’ Oscar nominated work on Neil Jordan’s ‘Michael Collins’.

Dublin is bathed in a gorgeous blue at night as Frances cycles through the streets with smuggled documents a la Collins in Jordan’s film.

May’s double life in Dublin Castle is also reminiscent of Ned Broy in Jordan’s movie.

Apart from the occasional stilted piece of dialogue packed with historical information, Teevan seems liberated by the opportunity to develop his characters over more than one series.

With Bradley, Murphy, Greene, Gleeson and Ward all shining, the first episode of ‘Rebellion’ was everything you might have hoped from an RTE drama.

It was delightful to see the veteran character actor Jack Shepherd, best known as ITV’s ‘Wycliffe’, turn up in Dublin Castle as General William Lowe.

Brian McCardle, best known for playing Glasgow hard men in series like ‘Line of Duty’, appeared as James Connolly and growled at the lead singer of The Stunning, Steve Wall’s Detective Coleman, calling him “a puffed up buffoon”.

The opening shots of RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ have been fired and it may well hold its own in the face of competition from Russia and Germany.

Dan McGinn is the film critic for Belfast 89FM‘s ‘Saturday Bites’ programme and regularly reviews the latest film and television releases on the blog They’ll Love It In Pomona.

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  • Dominic Hendron

    Opted for Germany,is there another chance to see rebellion during the week?

  • notimetoshine

    War and peace was terrible, great visuals do not on their own make a great show. The dialouge was terrible, phrases like ‘yeah I know’ coming quite close to modern colloquial, hardly paying tribute to the wonderful language of the novel.

  • tmitch57

    I suppose that at least Rebellion will be available in the States on Netflix in a year or two, if not the others. The Dublin-produced Titanic series was available and I enjoyed that.

  • Jag

    After bits that made your eyes roll and utter “oh God” at the start, the first episode of Rebellion last night on RTE did start to engage.

    The Shinners will have been roaring support from their sofas as Sinn Fein was mentioned a few times, uniquely placing the Shinners forefathers at the heart of the glorious (or “grubby” if you’re Jimbo) Rising.

    There will have been uneasy reflection in some households across the country as the soldiers returning from the WW1 battlefields in Europe were called “traitors” which, of course, technically they were and their collaboration with the British in the trenches in Ypres, or the field hospitals of Flanders freed up the British to suppress the Rising. That’s going to be an interesting meme as this year progresses. We never had “les tondeurs” in the South in the 1910s, I wonder how these collaborators will be seen 100 years on.

    I would take issue with Dan’s complimentary analysis of the Dublin scenery. Everything looks spotless and stagey. Presumably so many scenes were shot in the dark to mask the fact that they didn’t bother aging the place.

    Overall, it was mediocre TV drama, there weren’t any hooks as you had in Jordan’s more expensively made “Collins”, no-one was killed, or even mildly mistreated. The acting got better as the first episode progressed, but I can’t see this selling overseas, and, based on the first episode, this is no epic in the making.

    Down south, the one line of dialogue about a woman needing to go to Britain with a crisis pregnancy, has opened up discussion how little has changed in the past 100 years.

  • Jag

    It’s available across the country, north and south, on the RTE Player

    http://www.twitter.com/RTEplayer

  • Robin Keogh

    I was dreading the start of the series. With the exception of Love Hate; RTE in my view are not the most professional or creative when it come to home grown drama.

    However, I was pleasantly surprised. Its amazing how much we take our home cities for granted until we see their beauty through a lens, made me quite proud to be a dub.

    I also like the way they have linked the heroes of the time such as Pearse so seemlessly with the ordinary volunteers. They have kicked off with a number of storylines apart from the main event which shoukd keep us interested.

    There were a few dodgy and stiff acting moments which I hope will fade as the series progresses. 7 out of 10 I give it. Good Job RTE.

  • Kevin Breslin

    After reading the book, not sure if I want to watch the show.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Proof was excellent. I think they were half involved in Scúp too, which was okay I guess. Loved Charlie, God that was fun!

  • Slater

    Vastly better than Ronan Bennett’s wet dream on the BBC of a few years back when all the participants in the Rising turned out to be from Belfast.
    Almost too perfect at times. The couture was of of the highest standard imaginable. You could see every stitch, or maybe not.
    The British and Protestant characters were somewhat overplayed and not so well acted with exceptionally plummy accents and a tendency to witlessness. And the British soldier had to be a wife beater. Oddly the Countess seemed somewhat downmarket.
    Historically reasonably accurate except was not the stolen document a fake in reality, cooked up by the IRB?

  • Ernekid

    Haven’t watched Rebellion yet, its recorded on the Sky box but the Rubberbandits guide to 1916 is worth a watch. Its a hilariously irreverent take on Irish history A subject that we all tend to take far too seriously http://www.rte.ie/player/6c/show/the-rubberbandits-guide-to-1916-30003777/10511090/

  • Dominic Hendron

    Thanks Jag