RTÉ Charles Haughey series a ‘fair reflection of the man’

Three-part €4m series takes ‘Love/Hate’ Sunday night slot

Aidan Gillen speaks about Charlie, a the three part drama about the life of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey. Video: Ronan McGreevy

 

RTÉ has unveiled details of its three-part drama about the former Taoiseach Charles Haughey which will be broadcast in the New Year.

Charlie features three 90-minute episodes and, at an estimated cost of €4 million, is one of the most most expensive and ambitious dramas RTÉ has ever made.

RTÉ’s head of drama Jane Gogan has said it could not have been made without a €1 million grant from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s Sound and Vision fund.

The first episode will be broadcast on Sunday, January 4th, at 9.30pm in the slot once occupied by Love/Hate and will air on the two following Sundays.

The drama begins with the leadership heave of 1979 in which Haughey ousted the sitting Taoiseach Jack Lynch. It ends when he steps down in 1992.

The drama stars Aidan Gillen as Charlie Haughey. He is one of a number of present or former members of the Love/Hate cast in the drama. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor plays his press secretary PJ Mara and Peter O’Meara, the dentist in Love/Hate, plays Brian Lenihan.

Gillen said he never set out to make a “full-on impersonation” of Haughey. “It was the case of finding some kind of middle-ground of his physicality and what he was capable of.

“Because I’m an actor playing a part, I’m not really taking a stance. As far as characterisation goes, you could a full-on impersonation, but that’s not going to be the most interesting approach because then you might as well be looking at a documentary.”

Screenwriter Colin Teevan said he pitched the drama to a general audience, especially for younger people, who may not be aware of how much the figure of Haughey dominated Irish politics in the 1980s and 1990s.

Teevan said the source material for the drama, which included multiple books and the evidence of the tribunals, was so rich that there was no need to make up scenes from his life.

“Everything is in the public realm. We won’t be saying anything about him that wasn’t said about him in his lifetime,” he says.

“It is the job of drama to tell a ripping yarn. The great stuff about all of that is that he lived an action packed life. He lived it large. Those kinds of people are always fascinating.

“There is something almost Shakespearian about his vaulting ambition and his lust for power.”

RTÉ’s head of drama Jane Gogan said the drama series does not set out to judge Haughey and it is a “fair reflection of the man and his time”.

“This is the first time that RTÉ drama has commissioned a series about a political figure.

“In commissioning this drama we did not set out to be judgemental nor reverential, but rather to get beyond myth and caricature and endeavour to portray this political and public life in a way that would be a fair representation”.

The drama includes well known depictions of well known historical figures of the time including Peter O’Meara as Brian Lenihan, Gavin O’Connor as Seán Doherty, Marcus Lamb as Des O’Malley, English actress Lucy Cohu as Terry Keane and Jody O’Neill as former Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy.

At the time Kennedy was a political reporter who had her phone tapped by Haughey.