4 October 2007 Edition
TV Review : Brilliant bilingual political drama
Prostitution in party politics
WHAT with a rash of home-grown dramas coming thick and fast from RTÉ, there appears to be something of a creative boom underway. TV drama has seen a new generation of actors who have shaken off the cumbersome theatrical tradition which left many of them looking rather wooden on camera. The result is a generation of actors who are better equipped for the screen than any before them.
But it is the improvement in the quality of the writing that is most impressive. Written by Marcus Fleming, The Running Mate goes beneath the surface of local party politics and serves us up with a brilliant bilingual story of politics which breaks with the old tradition of writers inventing political parties. But we also have blackmail (a Tánaiste performing lewd acts with a mechanical dildo), corruption (yes, the political parties are real), the cynical misuse of the PR system, along with the forces of old-time conservative, petty party interests bristling up against the new social realities. The blackmailer in question is a South Kerry Fianna Fáil TD, Paudie Counihan (Eamonn Hunt).
From the opposition benches, he sets about the task of bringing down a troubled Fine Gael government (ah, the magic of television). Counihan’s dogged grasping for power alienates his thoroughly honorable running mate, Vincent Flynn (Denis Conway). Having served as ‘sweepers’ for the Fianna Fáil party for generations, Flynn’s father has an unwavering loyalty to the traditions of Fianna Fáil and is an arch-conservative in the FF mode for whom these traditions appear to be more important than matters concerning the common good.
Sweepers are like proportional representation’s version of the rotten borough. They are the candidates who run with the sole intention of gathering enough transfer votes to get the real candidate across the line. Having run three times as a sweeper for (and having being shafted one too many times by) the devious Counihan, young Vincent declares himself an Independent, and signs up his friend Willie as his campaign manager.
Just as Conway carries the character of Vincent Flynn so effortlessly, so too Don Wycherly’s portrayal of the anarchic Willie is performed with the casual flair that makes this crop of actors so easy to watch. The Running Mate, which comes in six episodes, is peppered throughout with laugh-out-loud moments.
But there are also serious issues to be faced up to by the Independent candidate. His daughter is pregnant and has decided to have an abortion. Despite her father’s opposition, he is more than willing to give her all the love and support she needs.
The characters are brilliantly written, wonderfully cast and flawlessly portrayed by some of Ireland’s finest actors. Even the hate-figure of Paudie Counihan attracts as much as he repels, and his sleazy shenanigans carry a dark hilarity with his blackmailing of the Tánaiste being simply priceless. When putting the squeeze on the right-wing Tánaiste with a video revealing him in a threesome with two prostitutes while on a junket to Eastern Europe, Counihan advises the Tánaiste “show them that and they won’t be able to call you a racist again”.
The Running Mate has a very broad appeal and could travel well beyond these shores. It feels like such a long time since we have produced anything this good. Directed by Declan Recks (who also directed Pure Mule) his latest work has gained a certain air of sophistication and sits comfortably with the best-written Irish drama to come out of TG4 thus far.
Promising times indeed.
By Philip Connolly
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
- This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
- Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
- Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.