It might not have been what everyone wanted from their Sunday evening’s viewing. I talked to a lot of couch potatoes who usually catch these things but on this occasion opted to give it a miss. I had thought that a serious contender for the greatest paradox in Irish political life in the last half century – colourful yet soot black - would have stirred an interest in them.

Although immensely entertaining, Fianna Fail members might have been less enthusiastic, squirming a bit in their seats. A lasting image of the party fashioned from the scriptwriting behind Charlie is not the type of thing aspiring TDs want hawked in front of the electorate. The closer to a general election the further away from Charlie Fianna Fail candidates understandably would prefer to be. 

I am still uncertain if it was a touch of genius or a diminutive pool of Irish acting talent that shaped the decisions of the producers in how they picked the cast. But the seeming en bloc transfer of the main characters from Love/Hate to Charlie managed in one deft clack of the movie clapper board to depict Fianna Fail in the Haughey era as one huge criminal enterprise. Once they made the cut the actors could have gone on to play the lives of saints, their characters paraded without the slightest past bishophood blemish: their visual presence alone was enough to spray damage. The characters have you almost waiting on Haughey to tell PJ Mara to whack some bastard but only when he is with Terry Keane. A judge’s wife is as good an alibi as one can hope to have. 

The acting is flawless but it might be a case of right people wrong stage. It will be very hard for viewers of Love/Hate – and there is a lot of them - to see anything other than Nidge in the character of PJ Mara. The makeup and glasses do nothing to conceal the Nidge mannerisms. In Love/Hate Nidge could not have seriously donned his PJ Mara persona as a disguise while doing a bank robbery with any reasonable hope of walking away from an ID parade. While Aiden Gillen plays Haughey with a level of detachment from Love/Hate that Tom Vaughan-Lawlor never attains, he swims against the tide of the John Boy saturation effect. 

The relationship between Gillan and Vaughan-Lawlor in their Charlie roles was much the same as it had been in Love/Hate, until Nidge bumped John Boy off. There was only one The Boss and as Willie O’Dea said:

You were either with him or against him, and if you were against him you were definitely in the outside circle and that was it, and that is where you stayed.

It was never Borgen, the great Danish political drama, but it was never meant to be and should not be unfavourably judged in the ultra Scandinavian light. This was a mixture of black comedy, mockumentary, period drama and political history designed to convey a feel for the time that the viewer could touch rather than watch with the exactitude afforded by the sight sense. Despite protestations that it was far removed from what actually occurred, its potency lies in its ability to paint a picture of a gang in government and touch a chord in popular memory that this was how it actually was.    

Watching it through republican eyes a particular interest was ignited by the back channel links to the Provisional IRA that Charles J Haughey made use of. These would later prove significant in bringing an end to the campaign of the Provos, seeing them absorbed in the very system they once sought to bring down, with one member in a moment of candour admitting that he had "gone from agitator to establishment figure." 

While Gillen as Haughey can be clearly seen swearing he would never do business with the Provos given the damage they were responsible for, there is a striking resemblance between the then leader of Fianna Fail depicted in Colin Teevan’s Charlie, and the then and still leader of Sinn Fein, a voracious human shark whose appetite endlessly craves power.

It is this which invites the thought that there may be a Berlusconi factor at play in Irish culture that allows a substantial number of people to favour a dictatorial rogue if he can make himself annoying enough to the establishment without ever in any way posing a threat to the interests of the establishment.

Charlie is a story about unrelenting ambition, the endless pursuit of power just to have it, the embedment in the political system of a mafia and the unedifying spectacle of a “great leader” surrounded by even great sycophants. The next general elections will be a test of just how successful the Republic of 26 has been in divesting itself of Charlie. 

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