The final episode of ‘Rebellion’ on RTE1 was not surprisingly a mournful affair as characters awaited execution, languished in Kilmainham Jail or tried to avoid capture.
At the start of the episode, Steve Wall – best known to my generation as the lead singer of The Stunning – burst through the doors of the home of Niamh Cusack’s Nelly Cosgrave and almost caught Sarah Greene’s May Lacy and Ruth Bradley’s IRB operative Frances O’Flaherty hiding in an attic.
Over the course of the episode, Wall’s Detective Coleman had a thoroughly miserable time and was thwarted at every turn.
When May came out of hiding to hand herself in at Dublin Castle to her British Under Secretary lover Tom Turner’s Charles Hammond, Coleman was told he could not question her by the senior civil servant who was cooking a plan to keep his pregnant mistress in a job and give his wife the child she could not have.
Detective Coleman suffered another setback when Michael Ford-Fitzgerald’s Harry Butler managed to get the theft charges he had spirited up against Jordanne Jones’ maid Minnie Mahon dropped.
Earlier in the episode Harry bribed Coleman in a Dublin pub to drop the statement that was keeping his sister, Charlie Murphy’s rebel Lizzie in prison.
And then, he had the added headache of an armed and obsessed Frances on his tail.
As he awaited execution, Brian Gleeson’s Irish Citizens Army volunteer Jimmy Mahon was anxious to get Lydia McGuinness’ Peggy to forgive him for the death of her son at the GPO and the return of her husband, Barry Ward’s British soldier Arthur Mahon to the Front.
She couldn’t forgive him and told him she wouldn’t.
Fresh from his suicide bid, the soldier Lizzie ditched at the altar Paul Reid’s Stephen Duffy Lyons was dispatched to the Front in France too after an Army hearing.
Belfast nurse Sophie Robinson’s Ingrid Webster decided she would head to the Front as well, much to the disappointment of her boyfriend, Andrew Simpson’s disillusioned lawyer George Wilson.
George complained what little credibility he was building as a lawyer had been dismantled by the court martials of the 1916 leaders and their execution.
Lizzie remained in jail in her immaculate green coat, in the expectation that her true love Jimmy would be executed.
She was told by her mother, Michelle Fairley’s Dolly she was proud of her for fighting for her ideals but she rebuffed her mum’s attempt to persuade her to plead for a lesser sentence by saying she had been foolish to join the rebellion.
Eamon de Valera turned up for the first time in the series and was depicted in a less than flattering light, spewing after he learnt his life had been spared.
Once again, writer Colin Teevan’s script was a frustrating affair – having moments of decent drama mixed with frivolous nonsense.
A scene where Lydia McGuinness’s Peggy Mahon clashed with Gus McDonagh’s Monsignor Mulcahy over his refusal to absolve her for refusing to forgive Jimmy was astutely written and well acted.
A confrontation between Lizzie and George was also nicely handled by Murphy and Simpson.
But these moments were undone by the rather convenient, unexpected death of one major character.
Teevan’s treatment of Harry Butler also became increasingly cartoonish, with his caddish behaviour and dodgy dealings.
The Charles Hammond-May Lacy relationship remained, as it had throughout the series, a soap opera distraction.
Frances was dispiritingly one note as Irish republicanism’s most dedicated and unrecognised activist – although a lesbian kiss was thrown in for her just to create a bit of a talking point.
So at the end of it all, what are we to make of Louhimies and Teevan’s attempt to dramatise 1916?
As Ireland’s national broadcaster, there was always going to be an expectation that RTE would do something special to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
And with its recent forays into popular drama with ‘Raw’, ‘The Clinic’, ‘Love/Hate’, ‘Amber’ and ‘Haughey’, the possibility of a miniseries was a pretty good bet.
In the final analysis, ‘Rebellion’ was a nicely shot TV drama on a tight budget, with some decent performances from some of its principal actors.
Charlie Murphy, Brian Gleeson, Lydia McGuinness and Barry Ward stood out from the rest of the pack.
Anyone who saw ‘Haughey’, however, which was also written by Teevan, knew ‘Rebellion’ would take liberties with historical fact and that is exactly what they got – not least in a sequence in the penultimate episode which implied Pearse may have knowingly signed a death warrant for his comrades with a reference to the Kaiser in a letter to his mother.
Louhimies and Teevan probably made the right choice not to focus on the main historical figures at the heart of the Rising.
But ultimately their series was let down by major weaknesses in Teevan’s script, especially a tendency to sensationalise with soap opera storylines.
Despite getting off to a decent start, Teevan’s script struggled as the series wore on but Louhimies’ assured direction and a handful of decent performances did just about enough to keep you watching.
By episode four, however, it was clear ‘Rebellion’ was testing its audience’s patience – a fact reflected by the TAM Ireland/Nielsen ratings which revealed the viewing figures had dropped from 619,000 for the opening episode to 487,000.
There is no doubt ‘Rebellion’ limped at quite some distance behind RTE’s classic 1980 adaptation of James Plunkett’s Dublin Lockout novel ‘Strumpet City’ with Donal McCann, Frank Grimes, David Kelly, Peter O’Toole, Cyril Cusack and Sir Peter Ustinov.
It will be interesting, however, to see how ‘Rebellion’ is received in the United States when it airs on the Sundance TV channel and whether it is picked up for broadcast by other networks around the world or on streaming services.
That ultimately will determine whether the makers of ‘Rebellion’ will get a crack at their stated plan to have a follow-up about the war of independence.
Unlike ‘Rebellion’, that follow-up will have a clear yardstick against which it will be measured – Ken Loach’s war of independence and civil war drama ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’.
Its writer and producers will need to display greater courage and determination than they showed in ‘Rebellion’ to avoid sliding into soap opera sensationalism.
They will also need to show a willingness to explore their characters in more depth if it is to come anywhere near Loach’s Palme d’Or winning movie.
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 public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog, They’ll Love It In Pomona covering the latest cinema releases.