Killers; Lolita; Delia’s Christmas; The Apprentice

by John Boland

Killers, which RTE1 screened on Sunday night, was essentially an hour-long version of those murder-scene reconstructions you get on the same channel’s Crimecall, except that on Crimecall they’re invariably followed by pleas for assistance from the public in catching the criminal while here the perpetrator had already been identified, arrested, charged, convicted and locked up.

Partly for this reason, the reconstructions in Sarah Share’s film seemed even more gratuitously lurid than similar dramatisations on Crimecall, and after a while the viewer couldn’t help wondering about the point of the exercise. After all, it’s not as if the murder of Rachel O’Reilly was unfamiliar to anyone living in this country – Joe O’Reilly’s trial was as recent as 2007 and coverage of it was so extensive that every detail of the evidence introduced by the prosecution was the subject of discussion in homes, offices, cafes and pubs.

Perhaps some hitherto unknown facts about the case might have lent the film some justification but there was nothing here I hadn’t heard or read about before, and so this 60-minute and often tediously repetitive re-enactment of the crime and restatement of the evidence seemed entirely spurious.

However, it did give the filmmaker plenty of opportunity to make a pitch for the Blair Witch, Saw and Hostel franchises, with countless shots of a sinister figure framed in shadowy doorways and corridors, while a doomily discordant soundtrack furthered the ominous mood.

But these trite horror-movie antics were a forlorn substitute for fresh information or insights (the interviews with the victim’s mother were from the archives), and all that was new came in the form of reminiscences by a couple of the Gardai involved in the investigation and some journalists who covered the case and the occasional evaluation by a criminal psychologist whose Mastermind subject must have been the bleedin’ obvious.

So why did RTE imagine we’d be interested in watching this film? And why was its title rendered in the plural? A Google trawl informed me that this was a two-part series (the other part featuring the Mulhall sisters), but the RTE website yielded no information about this programme or any others in a series. A bit of a mystery, then – and somewhat more intriguing than this film managed to be.

In BBC4’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Lolita? journalist Stephen Smith tried to unravel another mystery – that of Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov and his penchant for writing about middle-aged men who are sexually obsessed with very young girls – “nymphets”, in Nabokov’s coinage.

At the outset, Smith outlined the problem he wished to address – was Nabokov’s most famous novel, Lolita, “a morality tale or the fantasy of a dirty old man?” His quest to discover the answer took him from Nabokov’s final adopted home (a posh hotel suite in Montreux) to his St Petersburgh aristocratic birthplace, with stops along the way in Cambridge, upstate New York and London.

Long-time Nabokov fan Martin Amis conceded that “the little girl stuff” came up in too many novels to be ignored. “It’s an embarrassment,” he said, “he liked the idea of it too much.” However, Nabokov himself popped up in archive footage to insist “I’m a mild old gentleman, I’m very kind,” though that seemed really neither here nor there.

By the end of this entertaining and sometimes informative film, Smith came to his own conclusion – that Nabokov’s “obsession with fleeting beauty” had all to do with the fact that when he was seventeen the Bolsheviks forced him to flee Russia, leaving behind not just an idyllic country estate but also Tamara, the young girl with whom he was hopelessly in love.

And so, in later life, Tamara became Lolita and all of his other imagined nymphets. So that’s alright then. Or is it?

In Living Lightly at Christmas (RTE1), Conor Pope and Ella McSweeney reintroduced us to the families whose spending they’d attempted to curtail earlier in the year. It was nice to become reacquainted with the ebullient Mary, her agreeable husband Des and their four exhuberant daughters, though Conor’s advice on how to manage their Christmas finances seemed somewhat rudimentary.

“Start early, set a budget and stick to it,” was how Conor put it, a message that even I could comprehend. Among the other tips on offer were to impose a gift embargo, to buy a cheap Christmas tree up in the mountains and to get cheap turkeys and puddings from the big supermarket chains. Not exactly rocket science, though Mary and her brood reacted with their customary good cheer.

Over on BBC2, Delia’s Classic Christmas marked the seasonal return (after twenty years) of television’s most no-nonsense cook – not a “chef”, as she kept sternly reminding us, just in case we’d confused her with Gordon Ramsay and his unspeakable ilk. And indeed there was something oddly reassuring to be once again in Delia’s comforting, if somewhat schoolmarmy, presence, with hubby Michael to be glimpsed in the distance.

By contrast, Jamie Oliver’s brood were very much foregrounded in Jamie’s Family Christmas (Channel 4). His two winsome daughters helped him make pancakes, his baby son pulled faces over the gravy, while wife, mother, father, sister and granny helped him with other concoctions. With a less chirpy presenter it could have been a bit sickly but instead it was charming.

On The Apprentice (TV3), Steve and Stephen vied to be Bill Cullen’s dogsbody. Each of them had about as much personality as a toffee apple, but the slightly more agreeable Steve was overall winner of a contest in which the host has constantly shown an alarming lack of judgment. If the series is to be continued next year, more dynamic contestants are badly needed, and more cop-on from Bill, too.

Sensitivity to political, social or sexual issues has seldom been associated with sport stars, and thus on Sports Personality of the Year (BBC1) it was with an entire absence of irony that Gary Linker summed up how 2009 had gone for the world’s most famous golfer. “Tiger’s driving proved to be a little wayward,” Gary solemnly intoned, “despite birdies galore.”

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