Not- so- Bri­tish heir of a work­ing- class hero

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

Who Do You Think You Are? 7.30pm, SBS

DO you know who your great- great­great- great grand­fa­ther is? I know mine, but that is be­cause he was a his­toric fig­ure: Billy Blue, ex- con­vict and fa­mil­iar of Lach­lan Mac­quarie and his wife and son, and the first non- in­dige­nous res­i­dent of Syd­ney’s north shore, who also hap­pened to be a na­tive of the West Indies. His ge­netic her­itage was mainly a mix of the Caribs, the orig­i­nal, now ex­tinct, In­dian in­hab­i­tants of the West Indies, and the black slaves brought from Africa who laboured in the cane­fields.

But most peo­ple’s knowl­edge of their fore­bears usu­ally ex­tends only as far back as two or three gen­er­a­tions, if that.

To a large ex­tent that is a re­flec­tion of the so­cial mo­bil­ity of a young democ­racy made up of peo­ple from nearly ev­ery so­cial, eco­nomic and eth­nic group in the world: when you’re in the throes of build­ing a new world, you have lit­tle time for the old; os­si­fied so­ci­eties have time for lit­tle else.

But even in class- rid­den Bri­tain the links with the past have frayed, such that this BBC pro­gram, now in its sixth sea­son, which fol­lows a well­known fig­ure in search of their an­ces­tors and along the way de­liv­ers some pot­ted his­tory, has tapped a deep long­ing among Bri­tons to know more about where they come from.

In this episode Jeremy Irons, the man with the great­est voice in films, starts with two aims: to find why he’s the only ac­tor in his fam­ily and whether he has any Ir­ish her­itage.

That first aim is quickly sub­sumed in the hunt to find the truth about his great- great- great grand­fa­ther Thomas Irons, whom fam­ily lore cred­its with rid­ing a don­key into the House of Com­mons in the 1840s to de­liver a Chartist pe­ti­tion call­ing for par­lia­men­tary re­form and adult male suf­frage. As Jeremy Irons notes, he wants to be re­lated to a man such as that.

The story turns out to be much more in­ter­est­ing, as the ami­able Irons, usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by two very obe­di­ent black dogs, talks to ge­neal­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans to build a com­pact por­trait not only of Thomas but of Char­tism and the era that spawned it.

In pur­suit of his sec­ond aim, Irons trav­els the length of Ire­land, along the way dis­cov­er­ing a very ten­der fa­ther- daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship and learn­ing about the de­funct but once wide­spread in­dus­try based on mak­ing linen. Af­ter sev­eral dis­ap­point­ments, he does find his trea­sured Ir­ish con­nec­tion in the fam­ily tree, and it turns out to be not too far from where he started out and why, when he first moved to West Cork, ‘‘ I felt, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, that I’d come home.’’

It’s an ab­sorb­ing jour­ney in the com­pany of a boon com­pan­ion ( and his dogs) who could make the phone book sound like Shake­speare.

Mark But­ler

Ir­ish, aye: Jeremy Irons’s thes­pian voice be­lies his an­ces­try

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.