“Ballsbridge is like the Western front,” Ian McElhinney’s Edward Butler declared as RTE’s 1916 miniseries ‘Rebellion’ concentrated on the third day of the Rising.
There were plenty of bullets whizzing about in the third episode of director Aku Louhimies and writer Colin Teevan’s miniseries, starting with a British firing squad shooting a rebel.
Barry Ward’s Arthur Mahon couldn’t bring himself to raise his rifle and, avoiding a court martial, he ended up having to scoop bodies off the streets of Dublin.
Over the course of the episode, we saw a dead child, dead citizens, dead rebels, dead British soldiers and even a dead horse.
As the bodies piled up, Ruth Bradley’s IRB volunteer Frances O’Flaherty roamed through enemy lines with a concealed revolver, sometimes dressed as a woman and other times as a bloke with a flat cap.
Charlie Murphy’s Elizabeth Butler bonded with Sophie Robinson’s Ingrid Webster who revealed she had fled Belfast to avoid marrying a cousin.
Ingrid found her true calling as a nurse and tended to the wounded while Gus McDonagh’s Monsignor Mulcahy came into his own.
He defied Barry McGovern’s Archbishop Willie Walsh who advised him to have nothing to do with the rebels who he dismissed as “hooligans”.
Monsignor Mulcahy even helped Brian Gleeson’s Jimmy Mahon get back into the GPO.
Jimmy had been sent on a mission by Brian McCardle’s James Connolly along with Frances to ambush British troops but they both had to abort the attack under heavy gunfire.
As they fled the scene, Frances shot a British soldier in the head who was holding her colleague at gunpoint.
The violence got all too much for Arthur Mahon who returned to his family, only to be told his young son Peter, played by Jason Cullen, had rather ominously gone to the GPO to join his uncle Jimmy and fight for Ireland.
Episode Three of ‘Rebellion’ was at times thrilling, at times predictable, at times too sensational for its own good.
Some of the scenes where Frances O’Flaherty, Jimmy Mahon or Elziabeth Butler roamed the dangerous city streets did enough to keep audiences glued and the gun battles were reminiscent of Ken Loach’s ‘Land and Freedom’.
As discussed before, Teevan’s decision to focus on ordinary people caught up in the Rising rather than the main leaders was initially a smart move – drawing his audience in.
But as the series has gone on, we have seen weaknesses in this approach – particularly a tendency to veer into soap opera.
Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the showdown between Sarah Greene’s May Lacy and Perdita Weeks’ Vanessa Hammond, whose senior British civil servant husband Charles, played by Tom Turner, was confined to quarters in Dublin Castle.
With May suffering morning sickness, Vanessa insisted on finding out why she was always ill.
With a doctor confirming May was pregnant, Vanessa was baffled when Charles’ Cork mistress told her she was carrying her husband’s baby.
Vanessa told her Charles had had a mistress when he was posted in East Africa.
You half expected a ‘Dynasty’ style brawl when Vanessa said May could not be pregnant by Tom because a Harley Street practitioner had told her and her husband “the fault lies with the seed, not the soil” only for May to retort: “The seed is fine in fertile earth. I seem to be able to give him what you have not.”
Scenes where Elizabeth’s brother Harry, played by Michael Ford-Fitzgerald, revealed he was in debt and then later got drunk in a pub after being given her engagement ring also rang hollow.
The soap opera elements of Teevan’s drama have become a distraction from the events of the Rising as seen through his main characters’ eyes.
And while the fatal shooting of Peter was an obvious, signposted moment in tonight’s episode, it was undoubtedly tragic. Brian Gleeson handled a difficult scene well when Jimmy learned of his nephew’s fate.
For all its deficiencies, Episode Three of ‘Rebellion’ did just about enough to persuade this viewer to stick with it – even a viewer from “the Black North” to quote Michelle Fairley’s Dolly Butler.
With two episodes remaining, we’ll be able to properly determine if RTE really is flogging a dead horse.
Dan McGinn is the resident film critic of Belfast 89FM’s ‘Saturday Bites’ programme and regularly reviews the latest cinema and television releases on the blog They’ll Love It In Pomona http://loveitinpomona.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/the-bear-necessities.html?m=1
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.