Going the extra mile to make a difference

Going the extra mile to make a difference Mags Riordan.

RTÉ sure knows how to make excellent one-off documentaries – last week we had a good one!

In the Name of the Son (RTÉ One, Thursday) was the aptly-named story of Mags Riordan from Dingle. She had suffered the loss of three of her children – a baby that didn’t survive an accident that saw her car going off a pier, a cot death and the death by drowning of her son Billy at the age of 25. Though she came through this to do amazing humanitarian work in Africa, she was under no illusion about the effect of the tragedies – she said losing children like this is “a life changing experience” that changes you irrevocably.

Billy had died in a drowning accident in Malawi, and several times I was struck by the similarities between the Dingle and Malawi coasts – sometimes I wasn’t too sure which location was in shot. One strand in the film was showing what an enthusiastic, life-loving, young man he was. He died in 1999 but family and friends still cried as they spoke of him. Mags headed to Malawi and wanted to create a tribute to him over there, but she did much more that erecting a modest stone monument. She set up a medical clinic in Maclear, a village in the area that was hugely afflicted by malaria, HIV and eye diseases – one building led to another and lives were changed and even saved. It became known affectionately as ‘The Billy’s’ and we heard glowing tributes for the clinic and for Mags herself from local patients and staff, as well as volunteers from abroad. Volunteer Irish builders and medical students generously contributed their time, energy and skills.

The documentary was moving, but not in the least sentimental. Apart from the tragedies, there were some issues with the clinic as it developed to run more smoothly. Strategic partnerships were made with Church bodies to take funding pressure off the initiative, and funding was raised by a partner group in Boston. Some of the locals were unhappy with the changes, though it wasn’t fully clear why – perhaps because they preferred when it was more low-key and local, and there was one reference to pricing, but Mags reckoned that as the changes bedded in, local understanding grew.

In reflective mode Mags believed that volunteers were ‘sent’ her way, that “someone or something” was pulling strings, but she didn’t want to question it too closely. She didn’t believe in co-incidence, and said her values were broadly Christian – that was her upbringing.

Love and understanding for humanity are also evident in the crime drama series Unforgotten (UTV, Mondays). Back for a fifth series the character Cassie (Nicola Walker) is no longer in the frame and her replacement, DCI James, played so well by Sinead Keenan, is a different character altogether, more prickly and abrupt. Cassie’s former work partner DCI Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) has trouble adjusting. The plot, involving the unravelling of a historical unsolved crime, follows the familiar pattern of this series – in particular there’s high impact in those scenes where a compromised character, up to now getting away with it, sees the police arrive and knows the past is finally catching up. Though the plot follows familiar patterns the characterisation is excellent, across – police, perpetrators and victims.

There was one outstanding scene in last week’s episode, when Khan and James finally cleared the air – he tells her about his fiancée having a miscarriage, and she reveals why her focus has not been firmly on the case – 54 minutes before she started her new job, she learned her husband had been having an affair, and it turned out it was with her sister. It was a tense conversation and the acting deserves a BAFTA for sure.

I’m not so enthusiastic about The Bay (UTV, Wednesdays). The plot, about a woman who dies in a deliberate house fire, is okay, some of the police characters are well developed (especially Daniel Ryan as ‘the Boss’) but I’m not impressed by Marsha Thomason’s cop character. And it’s a bit too agenda- and message-driven, with a few same-sex relationships, including among schoolchildren, that seem merely tokenistic – ticking the diversity box. Amy, the Downs Syndrome child is much better integrated into the story and no big deal is made of her condition – she’s as well rounded as any of the child characters and that’s welcome.


Pick of the week
Service For The 25th Anniversary of The Good Friday Agreement
RTÉ One, Holy Thursday April 6, 4.40pm

A multi-denominational Service on Holy Thursday, marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

My Life at Easter with Sally Phillips
BBC One, Good Friday, 11.15am

Sally Philips meets writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth to discover how Easter has informed a life filled with love, faith, politics and pantomime.

Pilgrimage: The Road through Portugal
BBC Two, Good Friday April 7, 9pm

Seven well-known personalities, with differing faiths and beliefs, meet in northern Portugal to tackle a modern Catholic pilgrimage: the famous sanctuary in the city of Fatima.