Nationwide; This is Nell McCafferty…

by John Boland

Bestselling thriller writer John Connolly is interviewed at length on Radio One’s evening arts show. A week later he’s the subject of an hour-long RTE1 Arts Lives profile. A few weeks after that he’s one of the main interviewees on Ryan Tubridy’s Late Late Show.

Meanwhile, pop impresario Louis Walsh is a guest on Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday night show. A couple of weeks later, he’s a guest on Craig Doyle’s Saturday night show.

Elsewhere in the RTE schedules, business entrepreneur Bill Cullen, self-styled celebrity lawyer Gerald Kean and anyone else who qualifies for C-list fame in this incestuous little country of hours get all the airtime they desire, both on radio and on television.

The RTE mandarins, who love to talk about public service broadcasting, seem happily compliant in all of this, while the licence-fee payer fruitlessly searches through the schedules for programmes that fulfil the public service remit.

But who needs substance when there are still more C-listers out there whose egos require massaging by obsequious presenters? And thus I found myself held in helpless thrall by Monday night’s Nationwide (RTE1), at the outset of which Michael Ryan promised me an encounter with “one of the great ladies of Irish fashion.”

That was only the start of the superlatives as a clearly excited Mary Kennedy, approaching the Limerick house of model agency boss Celia Holman Lee, assured us that the great lady was “the epitome of style.” Mary was probably the epitome of style, too, even if the flamboyantly coloured frock she was wearing for the occasion seemed to  come off second best in a paintball attack.

“Well, your home is gorgeous,” Mary told Celia as she stepped inside. “What a gracious entrance! This is lovely. Well, talk about style!”  In the face of such adoration, Celia could do nothing but graciously concur and when Mary breathlessly enquired how she maintained “such style, elegance, figure and energy” she was only too happy to divulge her crucial secret, which had all to do with posture. “Posture is everything,” she gravely told Mary, “because everything hangs from your shoulders and your waist.”
“But look at the size of your waist!” an envious Mary marvelled while Celia smiled contentedly.

Mary, though, was only getting into her worshipful stride. “Celia, you definitely have a wonderful sense of style,” she cooed. “Celia, you’re such a role model!” she trilled. “You epitomise style, Celia, do you know that?” she gushed.

All too soon it was time to go, but not before Celia showed Mary her conservatory. “Oh, my goodness, it’s amazing, Celia! And look at the garden, Celia!” Celia looked and nodded happily while I tried to keep down my dinner.

After this demented twaddle, the no-nonsense thoughts of a feminist should have been bracing, but This is Nell McCafferty (TV3) was in its own way just as dispiriting, Ursula Halligan’s archly uncritical questions allowing her interviewee to indulge her propensity for smug self-satisfaction.

Asked if she hated men, she replied “The glib answer is that I don’t them all, so how could I?” But the glib answer was all she gave, apart from a grudging concession that “some men are alright but I’m old enough now to be suspicious.” That wasn’t pursued by her doting interviewer, nor were any of McCafferty’s other lofty pronouncements on the abusive nature of male power and of female helplessness in the face of such power.

But anyone who’s ever listened to McCafferty in radio or television interviews is already familiar with her take on men. What was supposedly new here was her take on Nuala O’Faolain – “the love of her life”, according to an excited TV3 advance press release, which also promised that she would “reveal her deepest secrets” to Halligan.

The problem with that is that I wasn’t interested in hearing them – certainly not when she insisted on  telling me that she and her former lover were “sexually exciting” to each other” or indeed that “the sexual side deteriorated very quickly.” That’s a private matter and should have remained so, even if McCafferty is clearly of the self-enamoured view that everything about herself merits public fascination.

For real insights into the real lives of women, a drama series provided the week’s best viewing. Running over three nights, Five Daughters (BBC1) took the 2006 murder of five young women in Ipswich as its subject but approached these horific crimes from a bracingly different angle than one might have expected.

Little time was spent on the serial killer, who remained unseen and unidentified until near the end of the final episode. Instead, as its title suggested, the drama focused on the five young women, forced into casual prostitution by their heroin addiction, and on their relationships with their families.

Men were conspicuously absent here – indeed the film could just as justifiably have been called Five Mothers, whose troubled but loving concern for their vulnerable daughters was captured with considerable finesse and poignancy.

And because of affecting performances, you cared deeply for the welfare of all the young women, even though you knew from the outset that they were all doomed. “I’m not a bad person,” Annette Nichols  wrote in her diary soon before her death. “”I’m not a waste of time, space or oxygen.” And the viewer was made wrenchingly aware both of her inviolable spirit and of how her naive hopes were to be cruelly obliterated.

With the suicide of Johanna Salstrom three years ago, the Swedish version of Wallander (BBC4) lost its most luminous player. As the detective’s troubled daughter, she brought a substance and complexity to her role that gave the series much of its emotional depth.

Yet, even without her, this is still the finest crime drama on television. Without any of the portentous and leaden agonising employed by Kenneth Branagh in the BBC’s English-language series, Krister Henriksson expertly conveys the angst of the central character, while lending him a lot of droll moments, too.

The rest of the regular cast are also quirkily individual, and the result is that you look forward to being in their company even as the episodes become noticeably more baroque in content and brutal in execution. It really is a brilliant series.

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