Television: There’s not much tension in watching this detective

A problematic lead in Gabriel Byrne, a predictable plot, clunky dialogue and staying too close to John Banville’s Benjamin Black book dampen drama in ‘Quirke: Christine Falls’

Too modern: Gabriel Byrne, as Quirke, has too much floppy hair, and a hybrid Dublin-US accent that jars with everyone else’s

Too modern: Gabriel Byrne, as Quirke, has too much floppy hair, and a hybrid Dublin-US accent that jars with everyone else’s

 

The best TV adaptations rip the beating heart from a novel and transplant it to a medium where the demands are so different that some characters must be dropped, or changed radically, and subplots cut or created. I suspect that Arthur Conan Doyle would be mystified by the newly imagined Sherlock .

Andrew DaviesLittle Dorrit, Bleak House – is a master in this area, so adapting Christine Falls , the atmospheric crime drama by Benjamin Black, with an archetypal loner sleuth, should have been just another day at the office.

That means the true mystery at the heart of Quirke: Christine Falls (RTÉ One, Sunday) isn’t so much what happened to all those disappearing babies of single mothers in 1950s Ireland, and how Quirke, a pathologist and amateur sleuth, got to the bottom of it, as why Davies is so doggedly faithful to the book at the expense of making a good TV crime drama?

Too much of the book is left in, including chunks of clunky dialogue – not the novel’s strong point – and some characters are pure caricatures: the evil nuns, the demonic-looking priest and the scheming American millionaire grandfather.

And if the budget couldn’t stretch to Boston, why pretend to be there, with random American accents and a few vintage cars, especially when the hard-drinking, depressed and angry Quirke is much more provocative and interesting when he’s in Dublin?

Any number of clever crime dramas are on each week, so expectations are high. But, in Christine Falls , conversations with people who instantly spill the beans land effortlessly in Quirke’s lap, so his sleuthing is oddly passive, and events are so telegraphed that you’re bored with them long before they fall, with a predictable thump, into the action.

The success of the Benjamin Black series, which John Banville writes pseudonymously, lies in its atmospheric evocation of a smoggy, claustrophobic and rule-bound 1950s Dublin. (The murder-mystery plot is quite secondary.) This, the first of three adaptations in the miniseries, captures some of that atmosphere, although the exterior scenes look strangely stagy: you never get so lost in their damp greyness that you forget a bloke with a rain machine is standing just out of shot.

And then there’s Quirke, the man with no first name. My fingers can hardly type this, because I’m such a huge Gabriel Byrne fan, but flick over from Quirke to Vikings , on RTÉ Two, and he’s more convincing as a pelted-up Scandi overlord than a 1950s Dublin medic. Byrne is too modern in this – too much floppy hair, and a hybrid Dublin-US accent that jars with everyone else’s. In every scene his Quirke seems a beat away from the action, separate from the other actors, even ones he’s sharing scenes with. And, really, Michael Gambon as his father? He’d have had to wear his full Gandalf kit to pull that off: the two are too close in age.

The Moone family of Boyle, Co Roscommon are back for a second series (having scooped an International Emmy comedy award for the first one) of chapters in the life of 12-year-old eccentric Martin Moone (David Rawle) and his imaginary friend, Seán (Chris O’Dowd, who also wrote the series with Nick Vincent Murphy). In this opener of the new Moone Boy (Sky1, Monday) it’s the summer of Italia ’90, and Dad (Peter McDonald) insists that, despite everyone wanting to stay home to watch the World Cup, they have to go on the annual holiday to Donegal. “Leave Boyle soil?” squeaks a horrified Martin, his voice not broken yet.

His teenage sister, Fidelma, is pregnant, and her boyfriend, pious, keyboard-toting Dessie – or “life wrecker”, as her dad calls him – comes on holiday, too, as does Martin’s friend Pádraic (Ian O’Reilly, whose natural comic timing is one of the infectious joys of Moone Boy ).

Desperate to get back to Boyle, Martin, always a sunny optimist, runs away and ends up living with a family of Romanians.

Cartoons pop up to explain the action, and there are bursts of Gay Byrne’s old radio-show theme tune, and jokes about Schillaci. It couldn’t be more Irish. It’s all gloriously silly, sometimes surreal and gently funny, with a deep sense of affection at its core – and not a cynical moment.

Think gay marriage is controversial? Try the sex lives of people with disabilities, a subject long filed away in the denial drawer and one tackled in Somebody to Love (RTÉ One, Monday) with sensitivity, balance and forthrightness by the documentary-makers Anna Rodgers and Zlata Filipovic.

They built the film around Sanctuary , a play about the subject performed by a cast with varying degrees of intellectual disability. The theme underpinning that drama is the legal position. It’s illegal, since the Lunacy Act of 1871, for people with an intellectual disability to have sex before marriage. Frieda Finlay, parent to 40-year-old Mandy, who has Down syndrome, has been vocal about the inequity of such legalisation since her daughter was 18. Others whose disability is physical have different problems, and the strength in this film is the line-up of participants, who explain, with breathtaking honesty, their challenges in finding and sustaining relationships.

Despite requiring subtitles, Sarah FitzGerald articulates best, and with ferocious clarity, the problems she faces because of society’s perception of her and her ability. She and her husband, John Paul, both in their 30s and both with cerebral palsy, are parents to Alison, a toddler. The early days of their daughter’s life were marred by sniping comments from strangers questioning their right to have a child and by a terror she would be taken off them.

Scenes of their home life show a happy ordinariness – a rebuttal to those who wonder at the couple’s capacity to care for their child. Somebody to Love feels intimate and revealing, respectful of its many contributors, and is a bright light on a difficult subject.

There’s a cool, indie-film vibe about Doll & Em (Sky Living, Tuesday), a six-part dramedy with Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer playing not particularly likeable versions of themselves. They are very English, very old friends whose careers and love lives have taken different paths and who meet up again in Hollywood, where Em is making a movie. In a plan that quickly goes disastrously wrong, Em employs Doll as her assistant. As a look at female friendship, the bizarre, narcissistic bubble that Hollywood actors live in, and the fragility of even the toughest-looking ego, it’s a hoot. You admire its raw cleverness and kooky realism while setting the recorder for next week’s cringy, funny instalment.


tvreview@irishtimes.com

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