Television review of the week: Easter Rising given its place in world history

Review: ‘1916’, ‘Gineadóir an Stáit’, ‘Happy Valley’ and ‘The Restaurant’

Rising time: Roger Casement and John Devoy feature in ‘1916’

Rising time: Roger Casement and John Devoy feature in ‘1916’

 

The very name of this three-part documentary is like a proclamation. By calling it 1916 (RTÉ One, Wednesday) the film-maker Bríona Nic Dhiarmada appears to be declaring that while the TV schedules are cluttered with commemorative programming, all you need to know about the Easter Rising is right here.

Its landmark-TV status is further burnished by Liam Neeson’s narration and Patrick Cassidy’s luscious soundtrack. 1916 is clearly a big-budget project: locations range from Berlin to India, and from France to the US, and there are terrific, newly sourced archive photographs and footage, with plenty of contributions from historians. No documentary about a historic event can be definitive, not least because, as an academic discipline, history is built on historians contradicting each other, but 1916 succeeds on two fronts: it is lucid, accessible storytelling and its editorial viewpoint – that the Rising must be seen in an international context – is convincing and appealing.

But before we get to the GPO (where part one ends) we are in 1171 and then the plantations, and although nobody uses the phrase “800 years of oppression” it hangs over the overview of the several attempted rebellions and uprisings against British rule in the centuries that followed.

The contention is that a rebellion (even one as chaotic and poorly planned as this) was not inevitable on that particular day in Easter Week, but it was bound to come all the same because of the history of oppression and because of the international mood at the start of the 20th century.

The fight for Irish independence, it suggests, must be seen in a wider context, in line with other movements of the time and, in particular, a reaction to the spread of the British Empire, a wartime-enhanced understanding of nationhood and a rising class consciousness.

The film also sees echoes of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. Comparisons are made with the language in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and that in the US constitution, noting the similarities and the emphasis on equal rights, opportunities and happiness.

“In time the Rising would inspire freedom movements around the world,” Neeson intones, which sounds flattering. I suspect some elements will play better with US viewers than others: 1916 is funded by the Keough-Naughton institute for Irish studies at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, and will be broadcast on PBS in the United States.

“They were going to a land they wanted Ireland to ultimately be” is an eyebrow-raising take on the mass emigration of Irish people to the US – a reductive view surely but one that might play well with descendants of those emigrants.

The impression that lingers is that although the cultural revival was important for inspiring Patrick Pearse (and the poetic wing of the rebels) he simply provided an appealing mystic vision for others to follow; it was the Fenian-inspired, anti-colonial, US-fed beliefs that were the real driver.

Just 10 years after the Rising the biggest construction project in Europe at the time began on the River Shannon, when WT Cosgrave’s government set about electrifying the Free State. It’s a great yarn, but in Gineadóir an Stáit (TG4, Tuesday), the story and characters behind it are lost in dull detail, extraneous information and poor attempts at cultural contextualisation (including clips from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), with too many contributors talking too much while standing beside potted plants. And placing the subtitles in the middle of the screen is simply poor.

So we are back in Happy Valley (BBC One, Tuesday), the gritty cop drama with a lead character like nothing seen before in the genre. Series one scooped various awards, including a Bafta for Sarah Lancashire, who as Det Catherine Cawood helps keep a sort of order in the grim Yorkshire town. She’s gobby, divorced, lives with her ex-heroin addict sister, Clare (Siobhan Finneran), and is bringing up her grandson after the death of her daughter.

Created by Sally Wainwright, she is authentic right down to her tired, make-up-free face and hi-vis jacket. Series one featured extreme violence against women: its central plot was the kidnapping of a local rich kid, Ann Gallagher (Charlie Murphy). The Irish actor is back for the new series as a trainee police officer.

Episode one of this second series links back to series one. The past is referenced in snatches of conversation, but I wonder if people who have not seen it before might be a bit lost. Gallagher’s kidnapper is back, too: the now jailed Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), whose mother has been found dead in gruesome circumstances.

Wainright layers her stories like a tightly structured, bestselling thriller, which makes Happy Valley a satisfying if downbeat watch. As well as the hunt for a serial killer, interlinked side plots are introduced. Two feature women who make “bunny boiling” – that shorthand for the passionately unhinged – seem like a reasonable culinary exercise. One of the senior detectives has been having an affair with highly strung Vicky (Amelia Bullmore), and when he tries to extricate himself she goes full-on crazy lady. Jailbird Tommy Lee has an admirer, Frances (Shirley Henderson), a mousy, whispery type who looks to be taking it on herself to wreak revenge on Cawood for Tommy’s mother’s death. There are five episodes to go, and already it doesn’t seem enough.

The Restaurant (TV3, Tuesday) is back, and it doesn’t seem to have lost too much of its pulling power despite its transformation into a very long ad for a certain supermarket. It is now filmed in Marco Pierre White’s Dublin restaurant (yes, he gets his branding in, too), and he is the new judge.

Despite the British chef’s fiery reputation – the long-time judge Tom Doorley looks a mixture of starstruck and intimidated – White reveals an unlikely appreciation for prawn cocktail and generally gushes about the irony-free 1970s menu of this week’s “celebrity chef”, Rory Cowan. It is all quite low key. Even the guest diners, who can usually be relied on to be daft or pretentious about the food or, better still, wine, sound grand, although I suspect the woman who shrills several times about the steak being “orgasmic” might be a little mortified.

The food writer Ross Golden-Bannon makes up the tasting trio, so there are, for the first episode, three male judges. That seems like bad table manners. tvreview@irishtimes.com

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