TIM FANNING MY VIEW
TV3’S fine series shows the work that went into running a Big House…
V3’s new historical series
( Mondays, 9.30pm) follows the same format as The Tenements, which was also made by production company Big Mountain. Again, volunteers go back in time to discover what life was like for their ancestors. Like The Tenements, all of the 13 men and women on the programme have some connection with real-life Irish Big Houses. So often history programmes fail because of histrionic presenters, clunky reconstructions and television people’s overwhelming desire to place past events within a modern context. The Big House suffers from none of the above.
What makes it such an enjoyable watch is the refreshing enthusiasm and lack of pretence from the volunteers taking part. In the second episode this week, they gamely prepared the meals as would have been concocted in the kitchen of an 18th-century Big House, while making some mordant asides about the dietary habits of the landed gentry. Unlike many reality shows of this type, the tasks they are set weren’t selected on the basis of how unpleasant they were to perform. Instead, they were designed to illustrate just how much work and expense were involved in the daily running of these estates. Most poignant are the memories of those who actually worked in domestic service, such as Kathleen Devins, who recalled the parties the staff used to have when the master and his wife were away.
Before his turn as the monstrous soap villain Trevor Jordache in Brookside, Big House presenter Bryan Murray was best known for his role as Flurry in the smallscreen adaptation of The Irish RM – the series of comic novels by the Anglo-Irish Somerville and Ross – back in the 1980s. He helped place the relationship between the gentry and the staff in context through the selective use of primary documents.
Perhaps most notably, the programmemakers have opted not to beat the viewer over the head with a message. For all we may laugh at the opulence of the landed gentry, there were some in a later ruling class determined to imitate them. Gillian Anderson (above, with John Lynch as Jim Burns and Michael Colgan as Sheldon Schwartz) returns to our screens in this moody five-part detective thriller. She plays DSI Stella Gibson, brought in from London’s Metropolitan Police to help her colleagues in Belfast as they investigate the murder of a woman. ‘The killer is out there somewhere,’ explains Burns, ‘and we have nothing at all.’ As Stella looks into the case, she becomes convinced that a serial killer is at work. Her superiors are unwilling to believe her, but we know she’s right because we’ve already seen the killer at work, meticulously preparing for his next attack. But this is no ordinary serial killer, and it will be no easy task to track him down. No wonder Stellatella – and everyone else – is lookinglo worried…