The frenetic pace of episode two of Charlie, RTÉ's dramatisation of the political life of Charles Haughey, mirrors the mad, manic and dangerous pace of the year in Irish political life that it portrays - 1982.
As a piece of acting, Aiden Gillen’s Haughey has grown in stature since episode one, in which the actor set himself an already high bar.
By this episode, entitled Gubu – 1982, the actor and his subject have become one. It is brilliant: Gillen’s Haughey seems at times detached from the events around him, his face displaying a sort of bored contempt for everyone, foes and allies alike, mildly exasperated that not everyone sees his own genius.
This indeed is Haughey.
"They don't deserve you," pouts his fictionalised mistress, Terry Keane (Lucy Cohu) – the "they" being the people of Ireland – as the Boss, surveying the ashes of his 1982 government after its collapse in November, suggests they get the hell out of Ireland and elope to France.
PJ Mara is all but gone for most of the narrative, promoted, if that is the correct term to describe it, to the Senate – and it’s doubtful if Mara would have seen it as advancement had such a move for him been permanent rather than the brief dalliance it was.
The likable but apparently amoral character portrayed on screen by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Nidge in Love/Hate) only plays a major role at the end of the narrative of episode two, with his suggestion that his PR job now is to make the voters want to be the man Haughey is. Pressaging, perhaps, some more widely held attitudes during a yet-to-come boom-time in Celtic Tiger Ireland?
There’ll be no more nibbling at my leader’s arse, Mara says at the end (the actual word the real Mara used was “bum”): from here on in, it would be all Una Duce, Una Voce – which he really did say.
The key events of the year (the double voting by Haughey’s election agent; stroke politics and corruption; the internal heaves against Haughey) are told, mostly accurately, and factual fibs are justified by the dramatisation.
The scary darkness of 1982 is evoked, also brilliantly, by Gavin O'Connor's justice minister Sean Doherty, who keeps popping up like a demented hobgoblin, often with pint in hand.
“I need someone to watch my back,” says Haughey, telling the Doc, a former special branch man, that he is now minister for justice. Amid a series of delighted “fucks” and “I’m top dog now” – Doherty replies: “Your back is my back, Boss.”
In fiction, as in life, Doherty fed, and fed off, Haughey’s paranoia. Haughey’s internal political opponents are “pricks”, doing the bidding of “Brits”.
The Haughey character tells Doherty there are foreign agents working in the media, the gardaí, the North and inside the government itself.
This is what his supporters held to be true in 1982. Thus journalist Bruce Arnold, who is English-born and raised, was termed "anti-national" in official documents seeking to justify Doherty's tapping of his telephone.
“You are a guest in this country,” the fictional Haughey snaps at Arnold, to which the journalist replies: “Are you threatening me?”
“No,” says Haughey, “I am saying you should watch yourself.”
That’s what it was like in 1982: black, paranoid, fearladen.
The episode ends with a damning indictment from Tony Gregory, the inner-city left wing TD, asking Haughey what does he believe in?
Haughey lists a string of “achievements” that peaks with “free toothbrushes”. Just nods to various voter groups, says Gregory.
“With all your brains and your energy and your charm, it’s a pity you never wanted to do anything significant for the people,” says Gregory.
Jacinta, the girl from the northside ghetto shop into which the Boss occasionally drops to dispense largesse, calls to Kinsealy looking for a digout. She wants to emigrate.
Ireland’s just a kip, she says.
Peter Murtagh is co-author, with Joe Joyce, of
The Boss, Charles J Haughey in Government
, now available on Amazon as a ebook
- The final episode of Charlie will be broadcast next Sunday night on RTÉ 1 television