Addicted to Money; Cork’s Bloody Secret…

by John Boland

In Tuesday night’s first episode of Addicted to Money (RTE1), David McWilliams posed the question “Who killed the economy?” and while we awaited the answer we were treated to many of the verbal flourishes familiar to anyone who’s watched previous series by this pundit – starting with the assertion that we had been “encouraged to party like there was no tomorrow and now we’re left with the biggest hangover in history.”

A very McWilliams metaphor, you might think, and so it was odd to learn in the closing credits that the script was by Australian-based Simon Nasht and that the series, far from being locally produced,  was made by an Australian production company, Electric Pictures, with RTE (along with Channel 4’s S4C), listed as mere “associates.”

Certainly, despite McWilliams’s role as frontman, there was little here of particular relevance to Ireland’s local economic woes. Indeed, with the producers’ eyes obviously on international sales, the emphasis was firmly on the global, with Williams popping up – often for no apparent reason – in such bewilderingly diverse locations as New York, Beijing, Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin, Toronto and Las Vegas. Forget John O’Donoghue’s junketing lifestyle – God knows what all this demented globetrotting cost.

Indeed “demented” is the word for the programme’s stylistic approach, which smothered its supposedly serious subject in ludicrous visual gimmickry. Easy credit, McWilliams intoned at one point, was “a toxic, addictive drug,” and so we got incessant and utterly distracting shots of cocaine being chopped into neat white lines by hands wielding razor blades. Other visual and editing tics included constant zooms, jump cuts and elisions as the presenter battled to make himself understood amid all this show-off nonsense.

Nasht, director as well as writer, must shoulder much of the blame for this. Indeed, it was hard not to feel for McWilliams, whose presence was so overwhelmed by the film’s self-indulgent antics that he registered to the viewer as the film’s plaything rather than its powerhouse.

At the very end he told us that bankers, regulators and the governments which encouraged them were the cause of the global financial meltdown and that (in a seemingly local reference to NAMA) “your money is being used to bale these guys out. How does that make you feel?”

Obviously we were meant to feel furious, but by this stage my anger was directed more at the film’s self-regarding and soulless visual tactics which had sabotaged the story it had supposedly set out to tell.

CSI: Cork’s Bloody Secret (RTE1) also had a story to tell and managed to so without any such antics. The subject here concerned the murders of West Cork Protestants in their homes by sectarian fanatics in the spring of 1922 – murders that saw 60,000 Irish Protestants fleeing the country from this reign of terror.

As John A Murphy pointed out in the film, the law-and-order vacuum that had been created after the British authorities left meant that “it was relatively easy for people to get away with evil deeds,” and so despite the fact that the killings were condemned by everyone – including eventually the Republican movement itself – no one was ever arrested for them. And for obvious reasons a Protestant community fearful of reprisals also remained silent about what had happened.

However, Fachtna O Drisceoil’s film featured interviews with the descendants of some of the victims, one of whom provided a moving coda to the half-hour.

Just over a year ago, Peter Moffat scripted Criminal Justice, a five-night BBC1 drama series which began with the arrest of a young man for a murder he didn’t commit and then followed what happened to him as he became a victim of the legal system. This week, under the same title and also screened over five nights, Moffat offered the case of a middle-class wife who stabs her much-liked but abusive barrister husband and finds herself in the same legal hell.

At time of writing, I haven’t seen the last two episodes, but the early episodes were enthralling, with Maxine Peake giving a performance of affecting depth as the abused spouse. These episodes showed BBC drama at its finest, while the Beeb’s knack with the classics was evident in the first episode of Emma, though Romola Garai’s performance made the problematic eponymous heroine even harder to like than in Jane Austen’s original.

And, beyond that, do we honestly need another version of this over-filmed novel? No, we don’t, but it’s all done with such dash and looks so pretty that it seems churlish to complain.

I’ve no complaints at all about Spiral 2 (BBC4), a classy French crime series featuring murderous drug dealers, corrupt lawyers and cops who ride roughshod over the rules. With two more episodes to go, the performances are first-rate and the storyline is riveting. Oh, and Wallander is back on the same channel. Where would we be without BBC4?

On Who Do You Think You Are? (RTE1), celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin found out that there were Scottish shipbuilders on one side of his family and 1916 freedom fighters on the other. I’ve no doubt he was fascinated to learn these things but for the viewer it was akin to being trapped in a pub by a stranger insistent on telling you things you’ve no interest in hearing. And so it was that, half-way through, I ended up in my local, nursing my pint while keeping a watch out for unwelcome intruders with hairy chests and an ominous twinkle in their eye.

On The Frontline (RTE1), Fianna Fail national treasure Mary O’Rourke had the perfect defence for John O’Donoghue’s high-rolling lifestyle. It’s simply because “he constantly gets invited to places,” she told Pat Kenny. Quite so, Mary.

Having booted out the wrong guy in last week’s edition of The Apprentice (TV3), Bill Cullen made amends this week by sacking the right guy. “I don’t think you have the people skills to lead anything,” he told the charmless Setanta. Good man, Bill.

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