Bio soars as Nightingales fail to lift off

Bio soars as Nightingales fail to lift off Ruth Wilson, alongside Iain Glen, as her own grandmother in the biographical Mrs Wilson ( BBC1).

I’m reluctant to praise a drama series based on the first episode – too often I’ve done this only to find the series deteriorating (dramatically or morally!) in or after the second episode.

One interesting new drama, with some religious elements, is Mrs Wilson (BBC1, Tuesdays), two episodes in at the time of writing. This is an intriguing true story of a woman who finds out she doesn’t know her husband very well when secrets surface after he dies suddenly.

Ironically this Mrs Wilson is played by her granddaughter Ruth Wilson – and she’s really good at portraying the dismay as she discovers layers of secrecy. Again there are some suggestive scenes and a somewhat skewed morality at times, but it is engaging.

The husband in question was Catholic, at least in name – in one bizarre moment we see him saying a guilty Rosary after a pre-marital fling with the future Mrs Wilson.


In last week’s episode we saw the confused and betrayed Mrs Wilson in a church, apparently saying the Rosary, or at least hanging on to the Rosary beads when she is approached by a kindly priest (Ian McElhinney), her late husband’s pastor. The drama has more than its fair share of family conflict but it feels like it is marked by an understanding and love of humanity, with so many characters you could empathise with.

Even after two episodes I’m finding it hard to warm to Death and Nightingales, a BBC-RTÉ co-production based on a Eugene McCabe novel I haven’t yet read, but this drama does it no favours.

The Catholic-Protestant background in 19th-Century Northern Ireland is interesting enough but under-developed, as are the political plot threads. The script is dull, the pace slow moving and the plot rather hackneyed (young girl escapes brutal stepfather and takes up with poor but handsome young lad). Jamie Dornan is passable in the latter role, while Ann Skelly shows some potential as the young girl.

The Dornan character is Catholic in name though he has a picture of devils beside the Sacred Heard picture and makes a disparaging remark about the latter. There are some unnecessarily suggestive scenes, as has become all too common.

There’s major guilt on behalf of the abusive step father, but for once it’s not ‘Catholic guilt’!

In last week’s episode the pace slowed down further and it really was turgid, when, with a crime plot afoot, it should have been tense. I nodded off twice!  At least the priest character (Seán McGinley) is pleasant enough though I’m not sure he’s entirely genuine.

Back in the real world, Walk While You Can (RTÉ1) last Thursday told the by now well-known story of Fr Tony Coote’s motor neurone diagnosis and his impressive efforts to raise awareness and funds to combat the disease and care for those suffering from it. This fine documentary focused on his walk through Ireland with a huge number of supporters though Fr Tony himself had to spend the time in a wheelchair. The word “inspiring” was mentioned several times and what an apt description!

I’m sure the film will do a huge amount of good – at a basic level the walk raised €520,000 and I was glad to read the next morning that a fourth nurse can now be employed to look after MND sufferers thanks to the fund raising. He said the disease was challenging but he was still a person of faith and hope despite everything.

Though feeling the support of Jesus, he could get frustrated too, and missed his independence, especially dreading the loss of his voice sometime in the future.

He was glad he had given priesthood a chance back in the 1980’s, and he felt his work now validated his choice. The walk for him was like a pilgrimage and it was impressive to see how many joined him at various stages of the journey, including some, like himself that suffered from MND. Also joining him was his doctor Orla Hardiman from Trinity College, and I enjoyed the banter between them.

He had special empathy with people who were marginalised and thought the Church had been too inclined to judge and condemn in the past.  Let’s hope that the programme will encourage people to refrain from such attitudes towards people, even though there will always be a case for judging and even condemning actions…especially actions that leave others uncared for and hurt.


Pick of the week
RTÉ1, Sunday, December 16, 11 am

Mass on Sunday with a gathered congregation of people involved with Crosscare, the Social Support Agency of the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

BBC1, Sunday, December 16, 11.30 am

Gavin Peacock guides us through his life story, talking publicly for the first time about the difficulties of being one of the only openly Christian footballers of his generation.

RTÉ1, Wednesday, December 19, 9.35 pm

Two years on from being their recognised as a distinct ethnic group, this programme examines the accommodation crisis for Travellers.

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