If Lynch had invaded; School Run…

by John Boland

As a half-hour programme, If Lynch Had Invaded (RTE1) might have been interesting, or at least intriguing. At an interminable ninety minutes, it was farcically overblown twaddle.

The premise was there in the title – what if Taoiseach Jack Lynch had responded to the August 1969 police brutality in Derry by ordering the Irish Army to invade the North? The short answer, of course, is that he didn’t and no amount of fantasising will alter that fact or make the fantasising more than an elaborate, and entirely pointless, parlour game.

But it took Michael Hewitt’s film fifty minutes before it even got into the parlour. Before that we were  shown Lynch on television gravely telling everyone that the Irish government could “no longer stand by” as people got their heads pummelled and their ribs broken on the streets of Derry, and we heard the solemn thoughts of Des O’Malley and others as they recollected the fateful day.

Was Lynch’s statement a declaration of war? This is what reporter Keelin Shanley pondered at laborious length. Then, after every ad break, she pondered it again, while providing a resume of what had been said earlier for those viewers with attention deficit disorder. She did this while striding along the streets of Dublin and London, all the time having to continually swerve her head backwards in order to address a camera that was pursuing her from two paces behind. I expect RTE will be receiving her hospital bill for whiplash any day now.

Co-presenter Tom Clonan had to perform much the same gyrations, too, as the camera constantly circled around him, going artily out of focus from time to time or else providing extreme close-ups of his facial pores. Meanwhile, the music was pounding away incessantly, like a demented Bernard Herrmann score to an imitation Hitchcock movie, while the editor was trying to induce national migraine with a bewildering variety of jump cuts and other would-be stylistic fripperies.

All of which, of course, was an attempt to conceal the fact that the film had absolutely nothing of the slightest consequence to say to anyone with even the remotest interest in recent Irish history. And that was even before it got to the “What If” bit, in which Clonan, an old Army hand, presented a 40-minute scenario that seemed to go on forever and that had our valiant defence forces capturing Newry before being slaughtered in open countryside by British troops. The film showed this slaughter in a daft enactment of the imagined scene.

At the end, seemingly torn between fact and fantasy, Clonan mystifyingly declared of the Irish government’s debate on that August day: “We will never know who would have won the argument in the Cabinet room.” But we do know: Lynch won. Oh, enough of this nonsense.

There was more nonsense in TV3’s School Run, a ninety-minute comedy drama that couldn’t make up its mind whether it was an adult soap opera or a feelgood child’s fantasy. It began well, with a nice exchange between a mother and her nine-year-old daughter, the mother enthusing that exercise was addictive before asking if her daughter knew the meaning of the word. “Uncle Tom’s addicted to cocaine,” the child blithely observed. “Was addicted,” her mother corrected. “Now he’s a dentist.”

That was pretty funny but alas it was as good as Anna McPartlin’s script got as it depicted a crisis week in a Dublin gaelscoil. The characters were a heady mix of gays, lesbians, vindictive ex-wives, vengeful school inspectors, UN peacekeepers and an assortment of children. An upbeat tone predominated, but I’m not sure what it was feeling upbeat about – the incoherent and frequently incredible storyline made it difficult for one to know how to react. Some good performers did their damndest to make it all work, but it was a futile struggle.

Harper’s Island, which begins this week on BBC3, ended on RTE2 with two survivors of the gory  storyline. It was silly stuff and I should have guessed the serial killer’s identity early on, but against my better judgment I did get caught up in the antics of these priviliged, twenty-something thrillseekers and also in the gruesome deaths devised for each of them. And Irish actress Elaine Cassidy was very sympathetic in the main role.

There’s no one remotely sympathetic in The Fixer (UTV), in which a group of hitmen are the goodies, dispensing summary justice to London baddies the law can’t legally touch.   Reactionary macho posturing is the order of the day, with all the goodies white and most of the baddies either black or Eastern European. The BNP and the Daily Mail probably love it.

On O’Gorman (RTE1), Paddy O’Gorman chatted to a variety of people at the junction of Meath Street and Thomas Street. Opposite them was a Cash Converters shop – the latter-day euphemism for what used to be the local pawnbroker.

“It suits me better not working,” a chirpy girl with a mischievous grin and a great laugh told Paddy. “It’s a bit of time to get to know myself.” Then she guffawed. She was thinking of studying to be a beautician. “Well, you are very pretty,” Paddy told her. “Are you coming on to me?” she chortled.

Her male friend was equally laid-back. “At the moment life is good,” he said. “I’ve no complaints, I’ve no woman moaning at me morning and night, except when I meet up with this one.” She guffawed again.

Another man had just pawned his mobile phone for €30, “and ten days later it cost me €39 to get it out.” He had been in and out of prison for 27 years “because I couldn’t get a job and I had to go out and do other things.” Now he’s a Christian, he said, saved by Jesus.

At a pawnshop near Smithfield, a young guy with a ponytail had just pawned his €1,000 blues guitar for €50 and might have to move back in with his parents, “which at 26 isn’t great.” Paddy wondered if he’d play him a tune when he got the guitar out again, which he did.

Paddy’s a national treasure and this series, produced and directed by Geraldine Creed, is currently the best thing on RTE television.

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