After ‘Rebellion’ comes ‘Resistance’.
Irish TV dramatist Colin Teevan has returned with a five part showpiece follow-up to his 1916 RTE Easter Rising drama, ‘Rebellion’ which reached international audiences in the United States on the Sundance Channel and other parts of the globe through Netflix.
For the Dubliner, ‘Resistance’ is another chance to prove he can craft a gripping, multi-layered period drama in a prime time slot after the rather underwhelming 2015 RTE mini series ‘Charlie’ about Charlie Haughey and the very uneven ‘Rebellion‘ one year later.
Teevan’s previous series broke some ground with its depiction of the role of republican women in the Easter Rising but all too often it had a tendency to lapse into soapy storylines and rely on one dimensional characters used to work out modern day frustrations.
As with ‘Rebellion’, ‘Resistance’ focusses on the family of Brian Gleeson’s Easter Rising foot soldier Jimmy Mahon.
Having escaped execution following the failure of the Rising, Jimmy is back on the streets, serving as an eager gunman in Michael Collins guerilla war campaign.
At the start of the new series, he takes a bullet during a gun battle following his assassination of a policeman.
Jimmy’s neice Jordanne Jones’ Minnie is equally committed to the republican cause, hiding weapons in her apple cart after gun attacks and providing their Dublin tenement as a makeshift treatment centre for wounded IRA members, while falling for her uncle’s brother-in-arms Conall Keating’s Joey.
With Gavin Drea’s Michael Collins determined to infiltrate the British authorities in Dublin Castle with his own sophisticated counter intelligence operation, Brian Doherty’s IRA kingpin Frank Brogan retires Jimmy as a gunman and gives him a role acquiring vital information.
Opportunity knocks in the form of Simone Kirby’s Dublin Castle employee Ursula Sweeney, an unmarried mother whose young son is being put up for adoption in the United States by Joanne Crawford’s hard hearted nun Sister Benedict in her orphanage.
Desperate to keep Tomas from being adopted in the US, she turns to her sister, Natasha O’Keeffe’s lawyer, Agnes Moore who is married to Hugh O’Connor’s doctor and republican sympathiser, Lawrence who clandestinely treats wounded IRA men.
He agrees to approach the IRA to see if they can help prevent Tomas’ adoption but the price Jimmy Mahon, now posing as Jimmy Kinsella, exacts is that Ursula must first pass critical information about British spies operating in Dublin.
Using a library as her means of passing information, Ursula complies but she also catches the eye in Dublin Castle of Paul Ritter’s British military intelligence chief General Ormonde Winter who is impressed by her code breaking skills and sharp memory.
Craig Parkinson’s Black and Tans chief Captain David McLeod is less impressed but goes about his business, trying to root out senior republican leaders on the back of intelligence acquired within the IRA’s ranks by General Winter.
At first McLeod is outwitted as he raids the plush house of Catherine Walker’s well to do Sinn Fein sympathiser, Constance Butler in an unsuccessful bid to arrest Collins and other members of the Dail.
However when he does catch IRA members, he likes to deploy water torture methods to extract information.
Teevan brings back Constance’s weasly banker husband from ‘Rebellion’, Michael Ford-Fitzgerald’s Harry Butler who has a mistress, Aiobhinn McGinnity’s cabaret singer, Josephine Carmichael.
At the behest of his wife and Fergal McEllhatton’s wily solicitor and republican operative Maurice Jacobs, Harry reluctantly agrees to funnel deposits on behalf of the republican movement from Stanley Townsend’s visiting Irish American Senator Daniel Shea who is acting as a go-between with Eamon de Valera while he is in the US.
However this sudden influx of US dollars arouses the suspicion of Harry’s Butler’s Bank colleague, Enda Oates’ Benjamin Barratt and also the authorities in Dublin Castle who order an audit of the bank.
Teevan throws into the mix a Royal Irish Constabulary brother for Jimmy, David Wilmot’s Paddy Mahon (who takes over the counterpoint role that Barry Ward occupied as a British soldier brother in ‘Rebellion’), Frankie McCafferty’s IRA sympthising priest Father Gabriel Leonard, Matthew Hopkinson’s cocky, trigger happy Black and Tan Albert Finlay, Aoife Duffin’s republican journalist Eithne Drury and Ben Smith’s English journalist Robbie Lennox who she falls for.
Unfortunately, ‘Resistance’ is another uneven affair, struggling despite director Catherine Morshead’s best efforts to overcome its tight budget and the limitations of Teevan’s writing.
On the plus side, Simone Kirby, who some audiences will recognise from Ken Loach’s ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, turns in a smart performance as Ursula and is complemented by Paul Ritter’s typically entertaining, hawk eyed turn as General Winter.
As you would expect, an Irish TV drama about the War of Independence is going to portray the British authorities in a ruthless light.
Nevertheless the always watchable Craig Parkinson makes the best of a basic villain’s role as McLeod.
Natasha O’Keeffe comes into her own in the final episode and Jordanne Jones again impresses as Minnie.
Gleeson, however, is never really given the chance to properly shine and the same can be said for the normally excellent David Wilmot as his constantly morose brother.
Drea also struggles to conjure Michael Collins’ famed charisma and ruthlessness as a guerrilla war tactician.
Once again, a fundamental flaw in Teevan’s writing appears to be his need to settle modern day scores.
Michael Ford-Fitzgerald’s Harry Butler has to again trot out the caricature of a morally bankrupt banker, while Joanne Crawford’s nasty nun seems just too easy a potshot to take.
It is to Morshead’s and especially Kirby and Ritter’s credit that they just about keeps the audience’s interest but watching ‘Resistance’ too often feels like a chore.
Teevan sets up the premise of an Irish Civil War drama sequel by the end of this series.
While that seems inevitable, he is going to have to really up his game if that series is going to avoid being another crushing disappointment.
(‘Resistance’ was broadcast on RTE1 during January and February 2019 and is available on the RTE Player. This review also appears on the film and TV blog, They’ll Love It In Pomona)
Dan McGinn is a journalist who was previously the Ireland Political Editor and Ireland Deputy Editor of the Press Association and has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and other publications and for TV and radio. He currently works in communications and public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog They’ll Love It In Pomona which covers the latest cinema and television releases.