Wrecking the Rising: TG4’s Quantum Leap-style take on 1916 is a delight

TG4's three-part time-travel comedy depicted an era when mustachioed men were less likely to own yoga mats or live to old age - but just as likely to live with their parents

Pathos and farce: Peter Coonan, Owen McDonnell and Seán T Ó Meallaigh from TG4's Wrecking The Rising

Pathos and farce: Peter Coonan, Owen McDonnell and Seán T Ó Meallaigh from TG4's Wrecking The Rising

 

For the most part, this year’s centenary commemorations have been sober and reflective, imbued with that quiet dignity usually only achieved when Reeling in the Years plays slow songs over footage from the Troubles, or those YouTube videos of ducks being adopted by sheepdogs and the like.

On Easter itself, we were treated to a feast of pomp, ceremony and enough shots of delighted citizens garbed in re-enactment clothing that one can only assume a hitherto unappreciated zeal for historical cosplay exists among the Irish population.

That’s not to say there weren’t any tasty morsels for the discerning cringe-craver. The Late Late Show deserves special mention for melting down some leftover presenters and pouring their beige forms into period dress, and driving them onstage in the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

There, sporting expressions best described as “Ryan, this is not what we agreed”, RTE’s chateratti – Whelan, Morrissey, Ni Chofaigh et al – explained what the Rising meant to them, all the while sporting the dazed expressions of refractory five-year-olds shoved toward the mantelpiece, nonplussed at having to sing Amhrán na bhFiann for the entertainment of a visiting American uncle.

Overall, however, the media put in a good shift balancing a generalised sense of reflective poise with a few notes of opposition. They even made room for the appropriate amount of lightly scandalous commentary from naysayers such as Bob Geldof who, appearing in his own trademark cosplay of the white walker king from Game of Thrones, courted opprobrium by comparing the Rising’s leaders to Islamic State.

This treatment hit the right spread of viewpoints, couched just within that golden spectrum between “history panto” and “tomorrow’s Joe Duffy topics”.

Wrecking the gaff

Of course, like the queen, or a dog you get from someone you don’t know, the Easter Rising has more than one birthday, and it’s only with the calendar anniversary of the Rising that some slightly more playful interpretations of 1916 have, ahem, arisen.

The first such is TG4’s knockabout time travel caper Wrecking The Rising (Eirí amach Amú), a bilingual comedy drama in which three modern-day Dubliners find themselves propelled 100 years back in time, challenged to see how they would fare in that bygone era when 30-year-old mustachioed men on bicycles were less likely to own a yoga mat or live to old age but, on balance, just as likely to live with their parents.

As has been established about all Irish citizens, the protagonists of Wrecking The Rising are passionate 1916 re-enacters, and each also doubles as a broadly sketched caricature of the modern Irish male: that feckless and callow breed now occupying the space of our more heroic and impressive forebears. How, the show wonders, would a petulant, work-shy X-Box warrior, or an ineffectual history teacher, cope if the worthy weight of history were to be placed on their flimsy, freckled shoulders?

In the end, it turns out, quite well indeed. Despite having roughly the production budget of a bag of cans, Wrecking The Rising is for the most part delightful, with a sold foundation from James Phelan’s script, which nimbly supplements its more broad and silly moments with some genuinely self-aware and snappy insights: there is an early admonishment from an elderly mother regarding the erasure of women from 1916 lore, and a recurring gag that pokes fun at Joe Duffy’s efforts as a historian.

The series is also elevated by the central performances of Peter Coonan, Seán T Ó Meallaigh and Owen McDonnell, a trio who inject just the right balance of pathos and farce to keep the show moving at its brisk and satisfying clip. There’s a fine line between irreverent and irksome, and Wrecking The Rising treads it well (though a certain Springsteen musical number was perhaps an overreach). Wrecking is an endearing and likable fable that has more than enough wit and charm to rise above its ludicrous central conceit. In fact, you really will almost believe that so much Irish would ever be spoken in Dublin.

What if Pearse had lived?

TV3 have also thrown its green sergeant’s hat into the ring, with a slightly more sober stab at alternate history, called Trial of the Century, an upcoming docudrama that asks what would have happened if Patrick Pearse had been tried rather than executed. On the strength of the first episode, due to air on TV3 for three consecutive nights from this Saturday, Trial of the Century will be eschewing the elaborate and fantastical in favour of something altogether more sombre.

Undeniably, this is a well-mounted show, with a flair for rendering its scenes – mainly dry conversations between different pairs of serious men – as dramatically as possible. The courtroom portions zip along, and its potentially drab legal wranglings are well-framed and expressed. Having said that, the self-serious tone does wear slightly and it has that odd stiffness common to old TV plays, leavened only by ominous mood music. It is, though, an interesting thought experiment and should attract an audience beyond the ranks of history nuts.

The show’s third episode will feature a roundtable in which a panel of historical experts, chaired by Pat Kenny, will discuss the issues raised by the preceding two parts. TV3 has not yet confirmed if the panel will be deposited into the studio via a vintage car.

If, after all that, you’re still in the mood for a sideways look at this year’s commemorations, you’d do worse than checking out writer-director Dave Tynan’s See You, a brief and engaging film shot during this year’s centenary commemorations. In it, three Dubs gather in a city-centre office to watch the goings-on below, as the film flips between handsomely shot footage of the parade itself and the uneasy chemistry slowly percolating between its characters. The film sketches a compelling drama from minimal dialogue and an excellent cast, namely Dave Fleming, Sarah Griffin and the casually brilliant Emmet Kirwan.

Oblique, gripping, and with a script as taut as wet rope, Tynan’s work delivers more nuance and intrigue in its nine-minute runtime than most features manage in 90.

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