Largely accurate portrayal of Charlie and his times
Brilliantly dramatised series ends with our anti-hero devoid of empathy and emotion
The concluding episode of Charlie revealed Haughey growing ever-more obsessed with his legacy as the narrative also sought to explain the man behind the image. Photgraph: Patrick Redmond
Charles Haughey famously, and with epic but characteristic self-regard, told the Dáil as he departed the chamber in 1992: “I have done the State some service, and they know ’t. No more of that.”
In putting words into the mouth of Othello, Shakespeare went on to have him say immediately after those words: “I pray you, in your letters, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am.”
For three weeks, Charlie, RTÉ’s dramatisation of Haughey’s political life has been doing rather a lot of that, telling of Haughey as he was. The Fall 1989-1992, the final and third episode in the series which was broadcast last night, portrayed Haughey growing ever-more obsessed with his legacy as the narrative also sought to explain the man behind the image.
“You think I have no heart,” he says to his mistress Terry Keane during one of their trysts in a private dining room at Le Coq Hardi restaurant. “No,” she replies, “but there is something missing”. And, she adds with a whisper, “you fill the gap with your lust for power, power, power”.
She leaves, telling him that she must away for a jolly with the Keane Edge, the crack team at the Sunday Independent that helped her produce her gossip column in which Haughey featured regularly, disguised thinly as “Sweetie”.
“Don’t call me that,” he snaps at her during another encounter in Le Coq.
As he signs a cheque for £11,454 to pay off accumulated bills at Le Coq (taxpayers’ money he was stealing from the Fianna Fáil leader’s account), she quips: “So, I’m an election expense now.”
“That and so much more, Teresa,” retorts the Boss. “Don’t call me that,” she snaps.
The Fall reveals our anti-hero looking gray and waxy and acting psychopathic – seemingly devoid of empathy and emotion, save for flashes of the anger for which he was well known in real life.
He tries to make progress on the North. He becomes enmeshed in the beef-exporting mess; the IFSC is mentioned as is the Johnston Mooney & O’Brien/Eircom site controversy. Europe looms large – there is even a hilariously inflated claim of credit for uniting Germany.
Mara the jester abounds. “Caesar always had a fool with him to remind him he was mortal,” says PJ. “The most unscrupulous f***er of them all,” Haughey calls him at the end.
The toxic Doc makes an early appearance, demanding Haughey support his bid to be Seanad cathaoirleach having lost his Dáil seat. Others had got their rewards, he blurts.
“I’m too contaminated, too polluted to touch . . . I am owed!” shouts Doherty.
Haughey rounds on him: “All bets have been paid and you have lost,” before adding, “Now take yourself and your cringing God out of my office.”
Much is made of the death of his mother. Haughey, no flicker of emotion, is shown looking at her corpse lying on her bed. He merely places a 1916 veteran’s medal into her hand.
In another scene, his back to Brian Lenihan as his minister for defence and one-time tánaiste begs for Haughey’s approval for his running for the presidency, Haughey thinks aloud: “Time and tide wait for no man.”
“Do you miss her,” asks Lenihan, “your mother?”
There is no reply.
In the same scene, Lenihan thanks Haughey for raising money for his liver transplant, unaware that Haughey had stolen some £200,000 of the money. But the viewers know, just as they know the significance of the Cayman Island bank statements Haughey is shown flicking through, and the significance of the Des Traynor figure forever feeling the collar of his rich pals on Haughey’s behalf.
Ben Dunne appears twice: a dig-out for our friend, he says, handing over loot for Haughey, while the “thanks-big-fellow” later donation from Dunne is also accurately portrayed.
When Lenihan’s lying about telephoning the Áras in 1982 is exposed later, and Haughey asks for his resignation, Lenihan replies: “Should loyalty not be repaid with loyalty?” But there is no such point on Haughey’s compass – Lenihan is sacked. He is done in in the end by the Doc (true) and Jimmy (not true, as far as is known . . .)
Doherty blurts out in 1992 that Haughey knew about the telephone tapping all along (which is probably true but has never been proven) and that gets the dagger-wielders circling.
Then Jimmy the get-rich- quick builder breezes into the taoiseach’s office and drops on to his desk a department of justice file: Arms Crisis 1970 it states on the cover. The game is really up.
“When the Mafia come to finish you off,” says Haughey, “they always send a friend. Do I not find out who fired the gun?”
No, indicates Jimmy.
In October 1982, the year of the second episode, the real Charles Haughey pronounced: “I don’t intend to be a prisoner of my past.”
But he was – in real life and in the brilliant and brilliantly acted dramatisation that was Charlie, which, despite making up some lines for dramatic effect and also conflating some real events for emphasis, was a very largely accurate portrayal of the man and his times.