Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Rebellion (Colin Teevan / RTE 2016)

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

Rebellion (Colin Teevan / RTE 2016)

Article excerpt

2016 marks the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a pivotal moment in Ireland's revolutionary period, and the event from which the modern Irish state traces its inception. Rebellion is RTE's dramatic centrepiece to mark the halfway point in what has been described as a decade of commemorations. Reaction to the five part series has been "mixed" to put it mildly. Criticism has ranged from its perceived historical inaccuracies and politically motivated revisionism, to more general flaws of execution, with a melodramatic storyline that seems to owe more to ITV's Downton Abbey than a historical epic. John Boland (2016) felt that it failed to convince, "largely because [the writer] Teevan had come up with embodiments rather than individuals, character types that could be ticked off a checklist." Bernice Harrison (2016) excoriated its attempts to exert its feminist credentials by placing women at the centre of the narrative, while replacing the female nurse who carried the white flag at the rebels' surrender with a man. The public also seemed to tire as the weeks passed, with first run audiences dropping from 619,000 in the first week, to 487,000 by week four (Slattery 2016). One dissenting voice was Eoghan Harris (2016) in the Sunday Independent, who praised the drama's apparent courage in proving that the Irish, and not "the Brits", were the architects of their problems.

It is Harris's evaluation of the series' alleged strengths that points toward its greatest weakness. For a drama intended to tell the story of a rebellion against what was then the most powerful empire on earth, there is little sense of any context beyond the parochial and insular concerns of the (mostly) Dubliners involved. There is little sense, as Justine McCarthy (2016) points out, that "anti-imperialism was a growing movement around the world in the late 19th and early 20th century". However, while Rebellion can be denounced or praised for many of its constituent elements, whether perceived revisionism, anachronistic dialogue, or Downton Abbey pretensions, the main problem lies in its refusal to properly commit to any of them in a way that makes for convincing and compelling drama.

Written by Colin Teevan, whose previous credits include the 2015 drama Charlie (on former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Charles Haughey), the series had a--by RTE standards substantial reported budget of 6m [euro] (Brosnan 2016). This is small in global terms, but the production still looks relatively impressive, not least because it was able to shoot on location at many of the key buildings from the period. Arguably the most surprising aspect is the decision taken by the national broadcaster not to commission an Irish-based company to lead the production, opting instead for the Parishead-quartered Zodiak Media (albeit Element Pictures played a co-producer role). As a consequence, although most of the key creative personnel were Irish, two senior crew members director (Aku Louhimies) and editor (Benjamin Mercer)--are Finns. That the national broadcaster subcontracted out the making of a drama about one of the foundational moments of the state to a multinational melange of production companies says a lot about the economic orthodoxy in Ireland in 2016.

Therefore Rebellion was apparently commissioned with two intentions. The producers seem to have been intent on creating something with enough period drama flourish to appeal to audiences enthralled by Downton Abbey or Poldark (BBC 2015). (This paid off even before the series was completed with Sundance TV in the US acquiring US rights to the show at MIPCOM in October 2015). In interview Teevan has spoken of his desire to create a drama that deliberately sidelined the rising's major figures in favour of a more bottom up perspective, especially the stories of habitually marginalised female characters, a decision which promised an innovative perspective on events. Teevan has noted how unaware he was of the prominent role of women during the Rising, declaring himself "'astonished' by the numbers involved once he had researched the period" (McGreevy 2016). …

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