RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ – slandering heroes while creating dross

‘Rebellion’ episode 4.

Well, it doesn’t get much lower than this.

Patrick Pearse, so as to ensure his own execution, is portrayed in this dreadful travesty of the 1916 Revolution as a man willing to guarantee the execution of his fellow signatories to the Proclamation to achieve that end.

The writer and executive producer of this farcical production, Colin Teevan, deserves to be the subject of public opprobrium and ostracism. This was the final indicator in a series of indicators of his intention to portray Pearse in the worst light possible – as a self-centred and evidently insane psychopath. He laid the groundwork for that in each of the scenes in which Pearse appeared from the first episode to tonight’s.

The truth is that Pearse was a complex man, but an honourable one. He was not driven by ego, but by a desire to enhance the lives of others – his considerable work in the area of education at great financial cost to himself bears that out. But the makers of this series have worked by the dictum of never letting the truth get in the way of a lucrative and politically slanted story.

Although Teevan bears much of the responsibility for what is in the first place the writer’s creation, there are others who also bear responsibility. A television series such as this involves an initial proposal, commissioning process, a set of script editors and researchers / historical advisers, producers and a production team, and a director and his team.

Jane Gogan, RTE’s Head of Drama, should be made to carry the can on behalf of the State broadcaster – but that won’t happen. She may well be promoted, RTE being RTE.

The producers Zodiak Media Ireland and Touchstone – in association with Element Pictures – all had oversight of this series, and of the script-writing process. That Element Pictures, with all of their experience – including working with Ken Loach on Jimmy’s Hall – should have put their name to this is a very black mark against their judgement, at least as far as I am concerned.

Somebody made the decision to employ a director from Finland, a man who could not be expected to either know or have much interest in the details of the revolution, including the characters of its principal players. And so his culpability is less than those who chose him for the job. But even so, his direction of this series has been markedly poor – creatively and technically.

Bad enough that it is a mess. It is like watching a car crash in slow motion when we might see that if the driver took corrective action the crash might be avoided. But no. Jane Gogan saw the series before it was cleared to be aired, and so did dozens of others, from high-ranking RTE personnel to producers and distributors. None of them cried ‘Halt!’.

Jane Gogan tried to insert a get-out-of-jail clause in the RTE press release announcing the production. She said – “Rebellion will tell personal stories which are intertwined with the political events of the time. However, it is a drama, not a history lesson, and our story is told from the perspectives of a group of fictional characters who live through the political events of 1916. Men, women and children from Belfast, Dublin and London – people whose lives were irrevocably changed by this extraordinary period.”

That won’t wash. ‘Rebellion’ is a drama that is played out around an event that occurred and which is heavily documented – the before, the during, and the after. It is designed to be RTE’s flagship production to mark the centenary of the event that occurred and it brings that history into play – although warping it in the process, and it brings key characters into play – although warping their input and their very characters in the process.

This is indeed a drama, but one which is based on the foundational narrative of independent Ireland, the key narrative in modern Irish history, and so Jane Gogan is being entirely disingenuous by trying to use that get-out-of-jail clause. It is not Love/Hate or Glenroe. It should not be wholly fiction, although it has turned out to be.

There were a number of decisions which were quite obviously consciously made. One was to adopt the revisionist take on 1916 which in its more extreme versions has been largely discredited. Another was to traduce the characters of real people. Yet another was to swamp the story of 1916 in the centenary year in a drama largely about the comings and goings of of establishment families and characters.

Those are political decisions and they were made by people who are embedded in the political class.

It is dreadful so far, and it is going to get even worse.

Mark my words again.

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About Tom Stokes

Tom Stokes is a writer and journalist, and has taught media and journalism at foundation and under-grad levels. He holds a BA in Communications and Cultural Studies and an MA in Journalism from Dublin City University. He is a grandson of John Stokes, a striking tram driver in the 1913 Lockout and a Volunteer in Boland’s Mill in the 1916 revolution. He is an organiser of the Citizens’ Initiative to establish a new national day in Ireland on April 24th, to be known as Republic Day, and is co-organiser with Marie Mulholland of the campaign to have Ireland's new children's hospital dedicated to the memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, to be named The Kathleen Lynn National Children's Hospital. View all posts by Tom Stokes

3 responses to “RTE’s ‘Rebellion’ – slandering heroes while creating dross

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