Dramatic stories old and new

Brendan O’Regan reviews some Christmas offerings

"It doesn’t matter if the gravy is lumpy.” So said Marie Oglesby on The Mooney Show on December 16. Mary was battling with cancer and her family had feared she might not be with them this Christmas. Naturally they were grateful that she was with them, which put everything else, including lumpy gravy in perspective! Mary was also a woman of strong religious faith, which was helping her to get through these difficult times.

That afternoon I was also impressed by a Vincent de Paul volunteer who spoke on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, pictured). He told of people he had helped, but what was most striking was his insight and empathy. He was a great advertisement for the Society, and gave an inspiring face to at least one charity group, important at a time when other groups were being tainted by top-up revelations.

There were many other programmes that stood out for me since I last wrote a regular column here. Standing out, but not impressing, was a Tonight With Vincent Browne programme from December 10. The topic was the recent audits on child protection in the Catholic Church, in particular as they applied to the Christian Brothers. The panel featured Patsy McGarry of The Irish Times, pictured, Maeve Lewis of the One-in-Four group, and theologian Mary Condren. Patsy McGarry had some very complementary things to say about the contribution of the Brothers to Irish society, but found fault with what he saw as their litigious, as distinct from pastoral, approach to the issue. Browne had his usual negative attitude to the Catholic Church, and Mary Condren was critical of orthodox Catholic theology, so it was all a bit too much of a love-in – why not have at least one orthodox or conservative voice?

One of the many religious shows over Christmas was a new dramatisation, The Bible, a mini-series from USA’s History Channel that premiered on TV3 and Channel 5. From advance reading I knew it was well meant and stemmed from the faith of producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnet. I wanted to like it, but wasn’t too enamoured of the Old Testament sequences. Partly it’s a problem inherent in trying to film the whole Bible – the full text is too unwieldy for filming. A mini-series helps in that it allows more time, but this version didn’t escape some of the common pitfalls, like the one-dimensional characterisations. A lot of it was without context, and the intermittent use of a narrator didn’t solve the problem. Dramatic coherence was damaged by time jumps – captions like ‘40 Years Later’ are never a great idea. The spectacular aspects of the Old Testament stories were overemphasised – obvious example being the parting of the waters as Moses led his people to freedom. The violence was quite strong and some scenes were downright disturbing (e.g. Pharaoh’s men throwing babies over a cliff). If you knew the stories you’d have some idea of how they fit in to the story of God’s people, but to anyone without the background and sound catechesis it must have seemed all very strange and unappealing.

The New Testament section was much better, at least as far as I’ve seen up to the time of writing. The actors playing Mary and Joseph did a good job, and their part of the story had more coherence, a tighter focus and a more personal approach. The strong violence was still there, and while some scenes, like the miraculous catch of fish were well done, others were stilted. Diogo Morgado did reasonably well as Jesus.

Finally, journalist John Pilger, in Utopia (ITV), cast a critical eye on the way the aboriginal population of Australia has been mistreated. The catalogue of abuses seemed to be ongoing despite government apologies.

Pilger, pictured, is very much a passionate campaigning journalist, so I always wonder if we are getting the full story or just what parts of it fits his particular argument. However if even half of what’s alleged is true it’s a damning indictment. Many of the abuses have been well documented and even admitted to by officialdom. Some of the more dramatic moments were scenes where Pilger challenged government spokespersons. Good that they got their chance to put their point of view, but then Pilger had control over how these encounters were edited. Nevertheless, how some of them definitely squirmed!





Pick of the Week



 Radio1 Fri
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In a world of increasing political correctness, can religion be fair game for a comedian and what place, if any, does comedy play in spirituality?



EWTN Sun Jan 5, 8pm

Host Michael Coren examines the tragedy of the Catholic clergy abuse scandal.



6, 2:15pm

(New series, daily this week) Drama series based on the novels of G.K. Chesterton, featuring the priest-detective.