WHEN you’re a scriptwriter whose latest TV series is an irreverent take on the 1916 Rising, it throws you a little when you meet your director for the first time and realise he’s a descendant of one of the most celebrated fighters to die at the GPO.
TG4’s Wrecking the Rising (Eirí amach Amú), penned by James Phelan, is a three-part comedy drama starring Peter Coonan (Fran in Love/Hate), Owen McDonnell and Seán T Ó Meallaigh, as a trio of modern-day re-enactment enthusiasts. They find themselves transported back to Easter 1916 and rapidly become embroiled in the action in the GPO when they cause the accidental death of Pádraig Pearse. A Michael Collins character was inspired by Roy Keane.
Borrowing from the Back to the Future movies, the bilingual series isn’t afraid to send up the pomp and circumstance of the centenary year’s celebrations, or indeed people’s perceptions of figures like Collins, Pearse and Connolly.
But series director Ruan Magan is the great-grandson of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, known as The O’Rahilly, who was director of arms with the Irish Volunteers. Writer James Phelan was worried that Magan wouldn’t feel like joking when it came to the events that led to his ancestor’s death in a charge on a British machine gun post near the GPO during the fighting.
“I was worried he would be fighting for historical accuracy,” Phelan says. “Early in the process I said I wasn’t having any creative argument won by ‘That didn’t happen’ because, guess what, none of it happened: there was no time travel in the Easter Rising. But Ruan was a great collaborator and actually encouraged me to be bolder in my approach.”
Set to be aired to coincide with the centenary of the actual dates that the Rising took place on, is Phelan worried that some won’t take kindly to his light-hearted approach?
“No, we’re really not trying to be controversial,” Phelan says. “We’re hoping to stimulate thought and discussion and we wanted to be brave about it. I think the rationale was that there would be enough versions of what actually happened around this year, but the premise of time travel allowed us to explore how fickle history really is.”
The Tile Films’ production manages to tread the line between the comedic and the genuinely moving on more than one occasion; in one scene, Coonan’s character leads the rebels holed up in the GPO in a stirring rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’.
Most of the belly laughs come from the modern characters, with Coonan, who moves effortlessly between English and Irish due to his Gaelscoil education, playing Seán Purcell, an endearing but beleaguered hothead who escapes facing his impending fatherhood through gaming and his obsession with historical memorabilia.
Questions about modern male identity also seem to be addressed. “I was definitely trying to tap into a sense of impotency in modern life and a bit of disdain for certain roads our country is headed down,” Phelan says. “It is very consciously depicting a modern malaise that a lot of men seem to have.”
“In a way Peter Coonan’s character is striving for something, as though he thinks, ‘I’d do really well in a war but I’m never going to encounter a war worth fighting.’”
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