“What about Mrs Thatcher?”
These were the words uttered by Charles McHallen’s Fr Alec Reid in the final episode of ‘Charlie’ tonight when Aiden Gillen’s Taoiseach signalled he was willing to open up dialogue with the Republican Movement.
However it was also the question that bedevilled ‘Charlie’ throughout its three episode run on RTE1.
Haughey’s prickly relationship with the British Prime Minister was one of the most striking elements of his years as Taoiseach.
And yet, rather than confronting this head on, writer Colin Teevan danced around it, making some rather bizarre dramatic choices.
Audiences were given Greg Hicks’ Francois Mitterand and Andreas Schroeders’ Helmut Schmidt throughout the series and yet no actress portraying Mrs Thatcher.
This week, Teevan teased us with a shot from behind of an extra dressed as Mrs Thatcher at an EU summit but that’s all it was.
Archive news footage was eventually rolled out of the woman herself but that was typical of a television drama that consistently baffled, frustrated and disappointed from the first episode to the last.
Episode Three of ‘Charlie’, entitled ‘Fall’, zoned in on Haughey’s final years as Taoiseach, as he started to concentrate on his legacy.
While it was a slight improvement on previous episodes, it was a rather morose affair as Aidan Gillen’s Charles Haughey spent a lot of time staring – staring at the sea, staring out of windows, staring at his mother’s chair.
A new director, Charlie McCarthy was in the saddle but the same failings of the previous two episodes were on display.
Even though the pace was more ponderous than previous episodes, McCarthy and writer Colin Teevan continued to pursue the ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ approach to late 20th Century Irish and international history.
And so we had the creation of the Financial Services Centre, Haughey’s coalition with Des O’Malley’s Progressive Democrats, Ben Dunne, a meeting with Fr Alec Reid, German unification, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Larry Goodman’s woes, Brian Lenihan’s disastrous bid for the Irish Presidency, the fall of Margaret Thatcher and rise of John Major, the Birmingham Six, the beef inquiry, Dermot Desmond and the Johnston Mooney and O’Brien site, Albert Reynolds’ failed leadership heave, Sean Doherty’s interview on ‘Nighthawks’ and the resignation.
Gillen continued to have the best lines in Episode Three, while the supporting cast stumbled around, as they had for the entire series, with one dimensional roles.
As Brian Lenihan, Peter O’Meara struggled with a character that in the final episode was portrayed as a stiff, pompous buffoon.
Tom Vaughan Lawlor, with his Eric Morecambe glasses, cut a rather unconvincing figure as Haughey’s consiglieri, PJ Mara.
Lucy Cohu never really left first base as Alexis Colby.. I mean Terry Keane.
Gus McDonagh’s Bertie Ahern did nothing to suggest his character was the most cunning, most devious politician of them all – despite Haughey’s damning remark that “he is my true son. My political heir. He will ensure everything I achieved is not pissed away.”
Marcus Lamb’s Des O’Malley lost what swashbuckling spirit he had in Episode Two and there was no sign of Jacinta the Shopkeeper anywhere.
It was up to John Connors’ Groundsman turned Property Developer Jimmy to deliver the coup de grace.
Gillen’s impersonation of Haughey remained impressive throughout but despite all his efforts, not even he could elevate a poorly written drama.
Indeed, at the end of it all, you couldn’t help feeling that ‘Charlie’ was constrained by a tight budget, a three episode straitjacket and a writer who seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of the project on his hands.
To do the Haughey story real justice, it would appear you would need more than three episodes.
The viewer can only imagine what ‘Charlie’ would have been like had it been stretched over more than one series – allowing the cast and crew to properly explore events instead of galloping through them.
That is a gamble RTE would never have been able to take and yet it would have been a smart call.
In the final act, Teevan gave his aspirations away that the former Taoiseach would be seen as Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather III’, with Brian Lenihan even quoting from the first film in Francis Coppola’s trilogy.
But this rather soapy TV series was no ‘Godfather’.
It didn’t even come close to ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’.
In fact, this underwhelming RTE drama is probably best left to sleep with the fishes.
Dan McGinn is a journalist who was previously the Ireland Political Editor and Ireland Deputy Editor of the Press Association and has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and other publications and for TV and radio. He currently works in communications and public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog They’ll Love It In Pomona which covers the latest cinema and television releases.