HEY BIG SPENDERS

Ahead of the re­lease of The Guar­an­tee, Don­ald Clarke talks bailouts and bankers with Colin Murphy and John Kelle­her

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TICKET -

It’s only been six years since the im­mi­nent col­lapse of An­gloIr­ish Bank in­spired the sit­ting gov­ern­ment to guar­an­tee the hold­ings of that in­sti­tu­tion and its com­peti­tors. Yet those events have al­ready taken on the qual­ity of myth. The tight­en­ing of belts led us to mis­ery, pes­simism and, ul­ti­mately, the im­po­si­tion of wa­ter rates. It’s a pow­er­ful nar­ra­tive. Much of it may even be true.

Nonethe­less, the in­tri­ca­cies of that decision re­main ob­scure to all but the most well-in­formed eco­nomic anorak. This of­fers some ex­pla­na­tion why Colin Murphy’s Guar­an­teed was such a suc­cess when staged by the Fisham­ble The­atre Company. The play dis­en­tan­gled the eco­nomics, made a drama of the events, and of­fered an out­let for the brew­ing anger.

Now it’s be­come a film. Ian Power’s The Guar­an­tee fea­tures David Mur­ray as Brian Leni­han, then min­is­ter for fi­nance, and Gary Ly­don as Taoiseach Brian Cowan. John Kelle­her, veteran pro­ducer and for­mer Film Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Of­fi­cer, is pro­duc­ing the film for TV3.

“We are still pay­ing for all that,” Kelle­her sighs. “I went to the play three times and there was a Q&A each night: a lo­cal politi­cian or what­ever. The in­ter­est was quite in­cred­i­ble, and this was not your typ­i­cal Abbey and Gai­ety au­di­ence. They were all in­clined at a 45-de­gree an­gle and lis­ten­ing well into the night.”

Colin Murphy, a re­spected, eclec­tic jour­nal­ist, re­mem­bers some­thing sim­i­lar hap­pen­ing with the film’s very ear­li­est in­car­na­tion. He wrote a short ver­sion for Fisham­ble’s Tiny Plays for Ire­land sea­son and sensed that it was trig­ger­ing “a dif­fer­ent kind of laugh­ter”.

He is wary of any sug­ges­tion

‘I couldn’t have ap­proached this project driven by anger. That’s the Michael Moore ap­proach: di­a­tribe, not drama. It’s per­fectly valid, but it’s not the point of this play-turned-film’

that the full ver­sion emerged as a spew of fury. A gar­ru­lous in­di­vid­ual who can pack four words into the space meant for three, Murphy in­sists that he con­structed both play and film in a sober and fo­cused frame of mind.

“I couldn’t have ap­proached this project driven by anger,” he says. “That’s the Michael Moore ap­proach: di­a­tribe, not drama. It’s per­fectly valid, per­haps a nec­es­sary part of the over­all con­ver­sa­tion, but it’s not the point of this play-turned-film.”

What does he make of the de­gree of at­ten­tion fo­cused on An­glo Ir­ish Bank? When tapes emerged of the bank’s ex­ec­u­tives cack­ling pro­fanely at ev­ery dis­as­trous turn, the in­sti­tu­tion was con­firmed, within the mythol­ogy, as the en­tity from which all ma­lig­nity emerges. Lord Volde­mort seems cud­dly by com­par­i­son.

Who to blame

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first thing I would vol­un­teer about them, but, in re­sponse to your ques­tion, I would agree that they are car­ry­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of the blame,” Murphy says.

“Mind you, for the bank­ing col­lapse, they should still be car­ry­ing about 50 per cent re­spon­si­bil­ity. AIB should be car­ry­ing 30 per cent. That’s off the top of my head. Ask the pun­ters and they’ll say An­glo are car­ry­ing nearly 100 per cent of the blame.”

Guar­an­teed was writ­ten be­fore the An­glo tapes emerged, but they re­main wo­ven into the piece’s suc­cess. The Ir­ish Inde

pen­dent dropped the bomb on the morn­ing the play opened. The last read-through had not been a tri­umph; Murphy reck­oned that, if things went well, they would achieve a noble, wor­thy, but lit­tle-no­ticed suc­cess. It might trig­ger a few opin­ion col­umns. It might even be chat­ted about in the right bars.

“Then I heard the re­port on the ra­dio,” he laughs. “And I knew, be­cause I am a jour­nal­ist, that this would change things. It was quite be­wil­der­ing, be­cause we were sud­denly part of a big

story. It was what made the play. A bunch of jour­nal­ists came to the play and sud­denly they were be­ing in­vited onto the talk shows. Many of them said that a re­ally good way of un­der­stand­ing this story is to see the play.”

For all that, one can imag­ine that a film ver­sion might not have been the eas­i­est sell. The

Guar­an­tee (as it be­came) fo­cuses on a bunch of men and one woman mut­ter­ing grimly in a num­ber of dark­ened rooms.

“One of the things in my mind was Four Angry Men,” Murphy says of the live ex­pe­ri­ence fea­tur­ing David McWil­liams, Fin­tan O’Toole, Shane Ross and Nick Webb. “Fin­tan and the oth­ers were ba­si­cally do­ing their book tours. But they packed the Na­tional Con­cert Hall and then moved to the Grand Canal The­atre. If you can get big au­di­ences to hear ubiq­ui­tous com­men­ta­tors speak, well . . .”

Whistling in the dark

As it hap­pens, Ian Power, di­rec­tor of The Run­way, has made some­thing tense and blackly funny of the ma­te­rial. Weav­ing in archival footage,

The Guar­an­tee of­fers a bleak por- trait of the end of a pocket em­pire. We are shown com­men­ta­tors re­peat­edly re­mind­ing us that the boom was sure to bust, and we re­mem­ber the fig­u­ra­tive whistling in the dark that drowned out their prog­nos­ti­ca­tions. It’s all rather nau­se­at­ing.

John Kelle­her has been around long enough to know a vi­able project when he sees one. The piece has been trimmed and stream­lined. As Murphy ad­mits, he has – to use a favourite cliché of cre­ative writ­ing – been made to kill a few of his ba­bies.

Le­gal prob­lems were, how­ever, in­evitably go­ing to hang over any such sen­si­tive pro­duc­tion. Tri­als are pend­ing in relation to the An­glo case, and the Direc­tors of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tion’s of­fice has been keep­ing an eye on both the play and the up­com­ing film.

“It’s fair enough that they would be in­ter­ested,” Kelle­her says. “They took an in­ter­est in

An­glo: The Mu­si­cal, and I be­lieve they had to make huge changes. We don’t, I be­lieve.

“There are crim­i­nal tri­als in prospect, and the DPP is very firm on en­sur­ing that no trial will be prej­u­diced by virtue of a jury be­ing in­flu­enced by what they’ve seen – whether jour­nal­is­tic or in show­busi­ness. We are on no­tice. It is pos­si­ble that they could seek an in­junc­tion. I very much doubt that they will. But you never know.”

It’s hard to imag­ine what else there is to be told. Since 2008, the An­glo case has spawned whole shelves of weighty anal­y­sis. Seán FitzPatrick, the bank’s for­mer chair­man, and David Drumm, ex-chief ex­ec­u­tive, have – most un­usu­ally for pro­fes­sional fi­nanciers – be­come na­tional fig­ures. Folk who have trou­ble bal­anc­ing their cheque­books are now ex­perts on hid­den loans and com­plex bond trans­ac­tions. Epic po­ems will soon be com­posed.

“Dozens of books have been writ­ten,” Kelle­her says. “Shane Ross, Fin­tan O’Toole, Tom Ly- ons: they’ve all writ­ten books. The no­tion that we could be do­ing any­thing that’s prej­u­di­cial is an odd one.”

The film-mak­ers are happy to ad­mit that cer­tain li­cense has been taken in adapt­ing the play. As Murphy ex­plains, The

Guar­an­tee makes it look as if the politi­cians decision boiled down to whether you na­tion­alise An­glo or guar­an­tee all the banks. “It wasn’t as sim­ple as that,” he says. More­over, some ac­tors are play­ing ver­sions of the real peo­ple. Oth­ers are play­ing com­pos­ites. Some char­ac­ters are fic­tional.

“I had a big note on the front of the script: Ac­tors Should Make No At­tempt at Im­per­son­ation,” he says. “It’s like what David Mamet says about sex on screen. If you show it, all peo­ple will be think­ing is: is that for real?”

An un­happy com­par­i­son in th­ese cir­cum­stances. I think I feel a wee bit sick.

The Guar­an­tee is on limited re­lease from next Thurs­day. Live re­lay of a panel dis­cus­sion with Matt Cooper will follow screen­ing in se­lected cin­e­mas on that day

Let’s bail

Peter Coo­nan and Mor­gan Jones in The

Guar­an­tee. Be­low left: writer Colin Murphy. Cover im­age: David Mur­ray as Brian Leni­han.

Pro­ducer John Kelle­her: “We are still pay­ing”

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