Il est #Charlie

Tonight the second in a three part mini series on RTE about former Taoiseach Charles Haughey hit the screens. Local film critic, Dan McGinn, reviews part two.

Seconds out, round two.

The second episode of RTE1’s much hyped mini series ‘Charlie’ did away with last week’s pompous Oliver Stone contextual preamble.

However it remained a deeply flawed and underwhelming affair.

Aidan Gillen’s note perfect impersonation of Haughey still had a great deal of swagger about it but his performance could not paper over the massive cracks in Colin Teevan’s script.

As in the first episode, Teevan and director Kenny Glenaan raced through events – this time, 1982.

And so they gave us Haughey cutting a deal with Laurence Kinlan’s Tony Gregory to get support for his minority government in return for IR£80 million for Dublin.

We had Peter Gowen’s George Colley turning down a cabinet post but Marcus Lamb’s Des O’Malley keeping his, if only to keep an eye on Haughey.

Brown envelopes were passed to David Herlihy’s Ray Burke and Tom Vaughan Lawlor’s PJ Mara went to the Seanad and back again.

The Iraqi beef deal, the sinking of the Sharelaga, the Falklands, Haughey’s friendship with French President Francois Mitterand were all there.

We sped through the “Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre and Unprecedented” events surrounding Attorney General Patrick Connolly and the murderer Malcolm McArthur.

Charlie McCreevy and Des O’Malley’s failed leadership heave, the assault on Jim Gibbons and Sean Doherty’s controversial term as Justice Minister – Dowra, the Kerry guards and the phone tapping of the journalists Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold – were all covered.

But once again, the screenplay let Gillen and his fellow cast members down.

We had frankly unbelievable lines like Peter O’Meara’s Brian Lenihan telling Haughey he and Margaret Thatcher were like the “Burton and Taylor of European politics” and a preposterous sequence where Haughey chewed the flesh, entrails and bones of a quail with a napkin over his head, egged on by Mitterand.

As for Des O’Malley’s swashbuckling act during the assault on Jim Gibbons, it just veered into panto.

This week, Glenaan and Teevan jettisoned the ‘Thick of It’ style walking and talking scenes for wannabe John Le Carre sequences of shadowy encounters in the dead of night.

Des O’Malley and Rory Nolan’s Charlie McCreevy met under the shade of a street light, hoping Haughey would lose his Dail vote of no confidence.

Haughey and Gavin O’Connor’s Sean Doherty met in a car to discuss the phone tapping scandal.

Brian Lenihan, meanwhile, continued to be portrayed as an amiable buffoon, Risteard Cooper’s civil servant Dermot Nally remained a buttoned up doormat and Lucy Cohu’s Terry Keane still came across as a cut price Joan Collins.

Mercifully, PJ Mara’s disappearance to the Seanad spared us a deluge of aphorisms from Tom Vaughan Lawlor, although by the end of the episode he was back in business.

As good as Gillen’s mimicry of Haughey is – il est Charlie, bien sur – even his performance was showing signs of fatigue.

Gillen seems to have resorted to sporting a gangster smirk throughout most of the proceedings – an impression underscored by his rather telling comment to Laurence Kinlan’s Tony Gregory: “As Al Capone used to say, it was a pleasure doing business with you.”

But there is also the touch of a Batman villain about him.

It’s just a pity that Teevan’s script lacks the meat of David Mamet’s ‘The Untouchables’, the cunning of Jonathan and Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Night’ or the panache of a John Le Carre novel.

The only thing keeping this reviewer’s interest alive at the end of episode two is whether Jacinta, the shopkeeper will end up as a commissioner in Brussels.

  • Jag

    Apart from the light speed gallop where it was difficult to appreciate what was significant, “Charlie did this, and then he did that, and after that, he did this” and so on, apart from that, I found it entertaining.

    It struck plenty of false notes alright, did Charlie really sidle up to Mitterand’s mistress in a Brussels bar, clutching a bottle of red and spare glass, and quip about the Madame de Pompadour book she just happened to be reading, apparently not knowing who she was, and then moments later meeting with Mitterand himself. What was that all about? And the quail eating business – eating the flesh, the entrails and bones – with the napkin on the head to hide your shame from God, that was downright weird and was obviously copied from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the disgustington feast at the maharajah’s palace.

    Overall it was entertaining with some genuinely funny one liners (“this is a hurley, one of our weapons” said Charlie handing the gift to the Iraqi ambassador in reciprocation for an Iraqi ceremonial sword – “no wonder it took you so long to defeat the British” was the reply which had me laughing out loud). There was a peppering of such quality comedy.

    There is a separate RTE TV programme called “Reeling in the years” which revisits a particular year and covers the news stories accompanied by the music of the year – it’s one of RTE’s top rating programmes (normally in the Top 10), and Charlie had a similar impact as it did cover historical issues with authenticity (the Sun’s front page with the “Gotcha” headline was just one of many accurate props). I’d completely forgotten about the Sheralga being sunk by HMS Porpoise with all fishermen on board left to drown by the British.

    It’s just hard to know where the programme is going. What’s Charlie’s motivation? “Power” he unhelpfully says, but what does power bring? Women? Weath (the horse, the house, the island)? Status? Difficult to say.

    As RTE productions go, and as RTE drama goes, this is top notch (unlikely to sell much overseas though – it’s really for an Irish, north and south, audience).

  • Jag

    On the Sheralga incident (the apparently-accidental sinking of a county Louth fishing boat in 1982 around 30 miles from the Irish coast by a British submarine, with all five crew aboard the boat left to drown by the British navy, until they were rescued by another Irish fishing boat), recently unsealed government papers from 1984, show the Irish government washed its hands in supporting the fishermen’s claim for compensation, though ultimately the High Court in Belfast did award them compensation which was derided by the boat’s captain as inadequate.

    More here (including video and interview with fishermen)

  • Framer

    Great entertainment. Very watchable. Super conversational lines.
    It was on must remember the time of GUBU – the Attorney General squiring a mass murderer in his flat.
    Sean Doherty is especially, wonderfully FF.
    No Fine Gaeler (Blueshirt) gets even a walk-by part so far.
    Buy the box set.