Television: Secrets, secrets everywhere, from Galway to fictional Denmark

Review: A BBC documentary deals with the reality of abortion. Over on Sky, ‘The Legacy’ has an emotional finale

Alys Harte, presenter of Abortion: Ireland’s Guilty Secret? on BBC Three

Alys Harte, presenter of Abortion: Ireland’s Guilty Secret? on BBC Three

 

A documentary on abortion in Ireland when there isn’t a “hard case” propelling it into the headlines is unusual. It’s a subject that ebbs and flows in the media, reflecting a lurch from crisis to crisis, while each year thousands of Irish women, several a day, quietly make their way to England for abortions.

In Abortion: Ireland’s Guilty Secret? (BBC Three, Wednesday), a comprehensive, clear-sighted documentary, reporter Alys Harte talks to several Irish women who have had abortions and to campaigners who work to prevent its availability on home soil. “How did one country end up with two completely different laws on abortion?” asks Harte, meaning Northern Ireland, where abortion is allowed only where a woman’s life is at extreme risk, in contrast to the rest of the UK where it is freely available.

An Afghan doctor in Belfast talks of the political interference in medical treatment. It is, she says, as bad as in Afghanistan, “but here they all wear suits, you can’t tell who has these fundamental ideas and who doesn’t”. Harte talks to a 16-year-old anti abortion campaigner, her conviction solid and formed by her religious belief.

The teenager’s ideology contrasts with the reality faced by another young woman, who is now an active campaigner – alongside her mother – for the Northern Ireland abortion permission to be extended to include fatal foetal abnormality. She says she never could have imagined herself on this side of the debate but when, as a newly-wed in the middle of a much-wanted pregnancy, she was given the prognosis of fatal foetal abormality, she didn’t want to be organising a funeral on the day she gave birth. She went to England for a termination.

Moving south, Harte finds a “softer case” though probably a more representative reflection of the everyday reality. She follows Tara, 24, from Cork who travels with her boyfriend to London for an abortion. Her pregnancy is unplanned and she feels it’s not the right time to have a baby. Nothing about the decision is easy, from the practicalities and expense of travelling to her mixed emotions: the sadness, the sense of loss and relief she feels afterwards, coupled with anger she had to travel to a different country. No amount of images of bloody foetuses being waved in her face – anti-abortion campaigners on the streets of Galway are filmed with their arsenal of disturbing imagery – would have changed her mind. The women in Abortion who speak about their experiences break through the shroud of secrecy and give this revealing documentary its powerful punch.

Readers have emailed wondering why The Legacy (Sky Arts, Wednesday), since it began in December, has appeared just once in this column and not every week. It is that good. The Danish drama about a dysfunctional family – from the producers of The Killing and Borgen – has strong, memorable characters that beg to be sided with or hated. The acting is terrific and the taut plot and narrative drive demands tuning in week after week to see if the web of deceit, greed and longing that entangle the four siblings can ever be untangled.

This week’s final episode, with its mood of sadness and defeat, delivers the same emotional intensity as the first intriguing episode. That presented a simple story: a rich and famous artist dies, leaving her mansion to a daughter whom she had given up for adoption and not to the three siblings who expected it. Bitter infighting ensues; even a court case that on the surface looks the essence of civility destroys a marriage and tips one sibling over the edge. What makes The Legacy so compelling is that it’s never really been about the house, rather about family dynamics so dysfunctional that only decades on a psychiatrist’s couch might sort them. The final episode with the siblings at various crossroads in their personal or professional lives tees up the second series nicely.

The once brilliant Broadchurch (TV3, Monday) has turned out to be such a flop that I am abandoning it mid-season without so much as a backward glance at its stunning English coastal scenery or David Tennant’s floppy fringe. Series one was a low-key, self-contained whodunnit that teased out the impact of a child’s murder on a quiet community and delivered that rare thing: a genuine cliffhanger. In the second series, writer Chris Chibnall promised a courtroom drama – the trial of the accused – running parallel with detectives Hardy (Tennant) and Miller’s (Olivia Colman) investigation of a cold-case murder. But by now even the starry new acting imports are playing unbelievable characters with distracting who- cares backstories. Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte Rampling play warring barristers; one’s son is in prison, one is going blind.

The court scenes are ludicrous: would the defence take a vicar visiting the accused in prison as gotcha evidence of his innocence when surely visiting inmates is in a vicar’s job description? And as a crime-fighting duo, Hardy and Miller are borderline comic figures who appear to be able to sleuth unsupervised while awol from their day jobs. At least baby Freddie appears – I was beginning to think the biggest selling point in the village of Broadchurch is its childminding facilities, which leave Miller, his mother, free to go sleuthing for days on end. And who is paying the rent on that picturesque safe house?

Once you start noticing the many gaping plot holes in Broadchurch it’s about as attractive as a string vest. The moment I gave up was the unlikely plot cul-de-sac when the vicar brings the mother of the murdered son to meet paedophiles at their support meeting. She turns on her heels and runs. I’m doing the same.

Describing someone who knows their way way around a J cloth as “being a bit OCD” infuriates real sufferers in OCD and Me (RTÉ One, Monday). Obsessive compulsive disorder is a debilitating, exhausting mental illness. The four people interviewed in the documentary suffer different compulsions, from Dubliner Jacob, 25, who sees contamination everywhere, to Eileen, a 60-year-old Sligo woman whose life is dominated by repetitive rituals. The participants do a service to the understanding of the condition and director Adrian McCarthy offers a respectful treatment of their fears and anxieties.

Ones to watch: The doctors’ dilemma and life after care
The midseason hiatus of Grey’s Anatomy (Sky Living, Wednesday) is over and the long running super soap is back. Key point for quick recap (caution: here’s a spoiler if you’re watching season 11 on RTÉ Two): it ended on a “will Derek and Meredith split-up” cliffhanger. And Geena Davis  is still guest starring.
After Care: The Story of Ireland’s Care Leavers (RTÉ One, Monday) follows four 18-year-olds for a year as they leave State care and try to strike out on their own.

tvreview@irishtimes.com

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