The three part series which was over a year in the making, cannot be described as anything other than accomplished.
It was a brave and bold move from RTE to sanction and fund the show which catalogued one of the most turbulent times in Irish political history. It did so in an expedient and intelligent fashion which captured the intricacy of the era, which saw over a half dozen changes in government.
Aidan Gillen portrayed Charles J Haughey with unshakable certainty, navigating the contours of an incredibly complex and multifaceted man. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor was the unsung hero of the show bringing the infinitely likeable and equally devious PJ Mara to life. These two simply stole the show.
The three part series has, it is fair to say, been somewhat divisive. It expected an awful lot from its audience with presumed understanding of the intricate nature of Irish domestic and foreign policy throughout the Haughey era. It handled complex subject matter in a way that tended, at times, to feel slightly rushed and what easily could have been a 12 part series, became a mere three episodes.
That said, they were three stellar episodes.
The series rewarded understanding, sparked interest and humanized one of the great would-be villains of Irish politics.
It embellished in parts, skewing history in favour of narrative. Des O’Malley, an 80 odd year old man, having to come out and say he hadn’t wielded a sword about the Dail is easily one of my highlights of the New Year.
The ‘creative liberties’ taken were sometimes to the detriment of the shows’ overall quality. The first episode seemed indecisive in whether it was a comedy, docu-drama or just a fully-fledged political drama, this uncertainty left the viewer somewhat jarred initially.
The second episode was a masterclass, Tony Gregory’s inclusion a delight for the political aficionados out there. Gregory was seen to bring out the best and worst in the then Taoiseach. The second episode saw him come into his own as his government crumbles around him, and the roots of the back scratching politics are shown warts and all.
While the third ignored (to a large extent) the formation of the PD’s and the intervening years of tumult, that saw upheaval and uncertainty on a scale previously never seen on this Island. That said, it went a long way to humanize Charles J Haughey. Particularly with the loss of his mother and that moment of near atonement; where he stood, teetering on the precipice of unfathomable honesty by the window in his office.
We are left feeling that no one knew the real Haughey.
Whether or not this actually happened seems irrelevant, it showed the controversial figure as a mortal. He never got the legacy he felt he deserved, blindsided by a maelstrom of controversies and revenge from those who he’d left by the wayside in blind ambition of political gain and this hopeless pursuit of this legacy.
The series of internal heaves against his leadership are portrayed exceptionally well, with a palpable nonchalant derision never far from Gillen’s face.
This is an important series, highlighting the beginnings of cronyism and the negative perception of politics which have been prevalent for the last few decades. In some senses it depicts Haughey as the big bad wolf, which all our economic woes stem from.
It was rushed. Of course it was, but the depiction of the brown envelopes and the donations highlighted a fatal flaw in Irish politics which has yet to be totally stamped out, if we’re to believe what’s reported in the papers. This showed the politics of the day, was, like the man multifaceted. The show dealt with hugely complex subject matter, with a smile, a wink and nod.
It comes at an important time for politics in the state and could push people further from politics as a result as we see a the rampant rise of the Independents and the would be dawn of a neo conservative #RebootIreland movement, only time will tell whether this series has the impact it probably warrants.
This will hopefully go down as one of the better pieces of television produced on this island, stripping away the layers of Charlie and his slowly depleting cohorts. Three specific episodes dealing with different eras on paper should not have worked. Too much, too soon surely, but it did.
Exceptional piece of politically driven drama with a plethora of strong performances. Love/Hate: The Political years in a sense, but like the aforementioned show, it made for marvellous watching.
by John Brennan
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