Even if it was not about the rise and fall of former taoiseach Charles Haughey, RTÉ’s three-part drama would still have great entertainment value.
But Charlie is about someone we all thought we knew, so RTÉ has done the viewing public some service.
From the get go, viewers are caught up in the drama, which opens with the leadership heave of 1979 in which Haughey ousted the sitting taoiseach, Jack Lynch.
This is the first time RTÉ Drama has commissioned a series about a political figure and the first of three 90-minute episodes were screened last night. Head of drama at RTÉ Jane Gogan said that, in commissioning the three-parter, they did not set out to be either judgmental or reverential.
Ms Gogan said they wanted to get beyond myth and caricature and endeavour to portray Haughey’s political and public life in a way that would be a fair representation.
The part of Haughey is played by Aidan Gillen who has played devious figures in The Wire and Game of Thrones. He also took on the role of a gangster in Love/Hate, so playing Haughey was a perfect fit.
Another Love/Hate star, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor plays Haughey’s press secretary PJ Meara and Peter O’Meara, the dentist in Love/Hate plays former tánaiste and minister Brian Lenihan Sr.
Screenwriter, Colin Teevan, said he pitched the drama to a general audience, especially for younger people, who might not be aware of how much the figure of Haughey dominated Irish politics in the 1980s and 1990s.
There is a lot going on in the first episode, with many characters introduced to the viewer for the first time.
From the very start it rollicks through the personal and political life of Haughey and spares no blushes in the portrayal of his lover, Terry Keane, played by English actor Lucy Cohu.
Episode one, Rise, sets the stage for the return of the black prince of Irish politics. It is all about getting Haughey elected as taoiseach and about lots of money maintaining his lavish lifestyle.
Early on, we see Haughey’s accountant and secret bag man, Des Traynor, hand him brown paper envelopes stuffed with money.
“Just for living expenses, Allied Irish said,” says Traynor.
“All I’m doing, Des, is just living,” Haughey says.
“No better man for it but they said it’s got to stop,” says Traynor. “The overdraft extensions — its over a million. ‘Living way beyond your means,’ they [the bank] said.”
Traynor then warns Haughey that the bank would move to sell his home if the debt was not settled in full.
“They wouldn’t dare. At least not when I’m taoiseach,” Haughey replies.
Haughey’s mother, Sarah McWilliams, is shown as a pushy woman who is highly ambitious for her son and contemptuous of anyone who stands in his way.
However, she turns down his invitation to join his lavish election party at Abbeyville in Kinsealy, Co Dublin.
“You know I wouldn’t feel comfortable there, Cathal. And you’d want to be with Maureen and the family.”
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