THE NEED TO TELL BET­TER STO­RIES

Pa­trick Kielty com­pas­sion­ately in­ves­ti­gates the legacy of the North­ern Ir­ish peace process; a be­reaved teenager pur­sues an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity in Kiss Me First; and a com­plex sub­ject is given a sim­pli­fied treat­ment in Dave Allen At Peace

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TELEVISION - PETER CRAW­LEY

At an un­ex­pected point dur­ing My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me (BBC One, Wed­nes­day, 9pm), a per­sonal, fas­ci­nat­ing and im­pres­sively com­pre­hen­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the legacy of the Good Fri­day agree­ment, the co­me­dian and pre­sen­ter Pa­trick Kielty takes a slight de­tour – he vis­its a com­edy club.

It’s a telling stop­ping point for Kielty, though, one of North­ern Ire­land’s most suc­cess­ful ex­ports, whose fa­ther, Jack Kielty, was mur­dered by UVF gun­men when Pa­trick was 16. Many young men might have sought re­venge – an in­vi­ta­tion ex­tended to Kielty’s fam­ily by IRA re­cruiters. In­stead, Kielty stud­ied psy­chol­ogy (“Don’t read too much into that,” he says) and pur­sued com­edy, “telling jokes about pol­i­tics and the vi­o­lence”.

So let’s read too much into that: reel­ing from atroc­ity, he chose to un­der­stand why peo­ple do what they do, and then, through dis­arm­ing ways, con­fronted them with it. This search­ing, com­pas­sion­ate doc­u­men­tary does some­thing fas­ci­nat­ingly sim­i­lar.

At that com­edy club, Kielty seems both de­lighted and mys­ti­fied to dis­cover a Catholic and a Protes­tant im­prov duo, de­scribed as “sur­real, ab­sur­dist… apo­lit­i­cal, athe­is­tic”.

But sur­re­al­ism seems like a nat­u­ral re­sponse to con­tem­po­rary North­ern Ire­land. The word Kielty uses most fre­quently to de­scribe sit­u­a­tions either trau­matic or hor­ri­fy­ing is “strange”. One such ex­am­ple is meet­ing with Billy Hutchin­son, the for­mer UVF com­man­der, whose North Belfast of­fice has an ex­ter­nal mu­ral of armed, bal­a­clava-wear­ing loy­al­ists un­der the threat “Pre­pared for Peace, Ready For War”. Mea­sured through­out, Kielty makes one of very few jokes here, stand­ing be­fore the squishily painted mu­ral: “They look slightly more pre­pared for the cold than ready for any­thing.”

It says some­thing about Kielty’s abil­ity to find fresh per­spec­tives that he can be equally open minded in­ter­view­ing the DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter, whose own fa­ther sur­vived an IRA shoot­ing – “I liked Ar­lene, and that con­fused me” – or the Sinn Féin politi­cian, Emma Rogan (in an eerily de­serted Stor­mont), whose fa­ther was slain in the Lough­in­is­land mas­sacre.

The weight of those griev­ances makes North­ern Ire­land’s trans­for­ma­tions more re­mark­able, and still Kielty is stunned by peace cam­paigner Richard Moore, blinded from the age of 10 by a Bri­tish sol­dier’s rub­ber bul­let, who ex­plains that for­give­ness “al­lows you to let go”.

Yet it’s pol­i­tics, as usual, and now the Bor­der threat of Brexit, that cre­ate the ob­sta­cles.

You share Kielty’s quiet amaze­ment, though, at ob­serv­able progress, such an in­te­grated sec­ondary school where union­ist and na­tion­al­ist school friends po­litely dis­cuss ide­olo­gies which “don’t de­fine me as a per­son”. That even they imag­ine true rec­on­cil­i­a­tion re­mains a gen­er­a­tion away might be dis­heart­en­ing. But the doc­u­men­tary re­minds you that in his short life­time, Kielty is just one of North­ern Ire­land’s peo­ple to have gone through – and to have achieved – the unimag­in­able. “Where there’s peace,” he says, “there’ll al­ways be a wee bit of hope.”

Whol­lyun­real

Alone in a strange new place – bu­colic, sun dap­pled and wholly un­real – a teenage girl is ap­proached by a stranger and does what any­one would to do in the cir­cum­stances – punch­ing him square in the jaw and kick­ing him hard in the gut. Leila - or rather her avatar, Shad­ow­fax – is sur­prised that he com­plains. “Noth­ing hurts here,” she says. “That’s the point.”

The “here” in Kiss Me First (Chan­nel 4, Monday, 10pm) is a virtual re­al­ity game called Azana, a place you might ex­plore, fly over, or set down briefly to beat an ac­quain­tance into a bloody pulp with no last­ing dam­age or re­sent­ment. Nat­u­rally, it is where Leila chooses to es­cape to, in Tal­lu­lah Had­don’s ex­cel­lent, un­der­played per­for­mance, fol­low­ing the death of her mother. Noth­ing hurts here. That’s the point. But Shad­ow­fax quickly finds a sub-group, a band of mis­fit hack­ers proud in self-loathing, keen to break the rules, and prone to self-harm. In short, other teenagers.

“We’re Red Pill” one tells her, and when Leila traces that ref­er­ence to a dusty Wikipedia en­try for The Ma­trix, any­one who re­mem­bers Keanu Reeves down­load­ing Kung Fu will feel as old as Methuse­lah (or, in­deed, Keanu Reeves).

The Ma­trix is a clear source – Leila’s ar­rival, like Neo’s, has been proph­e­sised – but this six-part Chan­nel 4 and Net­flix co-pro­duc­tion is pitched more adeptly at a new gen­er­a­tion of view­ers. Based on Lot­tie Mog­gach’s 2014 novel, which sheaved its pro­tag­o­nists into on­line chat rooms, and adapted by Bryan El­s­ley for a more vis­ually im­mer­sive post-Ava-

The doc­u­men­tary re­minds you that in his short life­time, Kielty is just one of North­ern Ire­land’s peo­ple to have gone through – and to have achieved – the unimag­in­able. “Where there’s peace,” he says, “there’ll al­ways be a wee bit of hope”

tar age, it is brisk in its treat­ment of drab real-life con­cerns.

The death of Leila’s mother, for in­stance, is quickly pushed out of mind, while an ea­ger, ap­par­ently un­em­bar­rass­able new flat­mate Jonty (the ami­able Matthew Aubrey), with act­ing am­bi­tions, in­sists on pri­vacy “for when I prac­tise my so­los.”

Video games, like so­los, can be lone­some teenage pur­suits, but Kiss Me First doesn’t deny its char­ac­ters a sex­ual con­fi­dence or hec­tic so­cial life. As Tess, who goes by the name Ma­nia on­line, Si­mona Brown looks no less ethe­real on a wet Lon­don street, se­duc­ing Leila like an in­tox­i­cant. When they dis­creetly share pills that are con­spic­u­ously blue in a eu­phoric club, the show is both sly and non-judg­men­tal about all the al­ter­na­tive re­al­i­ties to which a young per­son might be drawn. In the spry and in­volv­ing es­capes of Kiss Me First, they will read­ily find an­other.

Thetruthover­a­good­story

If your life story is in­ad­e­quate, a young Dave Allen is ad­vised early in the course of his own, it’s up to you to im­prove it. Or, to quote the Ir­ish co­me­dian’s fa­ther in Dave Allen At Peace (BBC Two, Monday, 9pm; RTé One, 9.30pm), charm­ingly played by Tommy Tier­nan, “What kind of an id­iot chooses the truth over a good story?”

It’s a very good ques­tion, com­ing with the fate­ful sev­er­ing of Allen’s in­dex fin­ger, which sug­gests the birth of an end­lessly in­ven­tive comic imag­i­na­tion. But it’s a more goad­ing ques­tion this brief, squeezed biopic. How do you treat a man who so fre­quently turned him­self into a leg­end?

The so­lu­tion of writer Stephen Rus­sell is to min­gle fact and cre­ation, in­ter­spers­ing a straight-for­ward chronol­ogy of Allen’s life, rad­i­cally sim­pli­fied, with direc­tor Andy de Em­mony’s slap­dash recre­ations of the co­me­dian’s sketches and mono­logues. Sadly, though, the trun­ca­tion of a life­time and a re­bel­lious phi­los­o­phy into the space of an hour leaves lit­tle room for much comic imag­i­na­tion of its own.

Here, Allen’s fin­ger is treated as a dis­mal truth – a child­ish mishap with a ma­chine cog – and used to il­lus­trate a loyal, life­time bond be­tween broth­ers. That would be slightly more res­o­nant if the show hadn’t writ­ten one of Allen’s two broth­ers out of ex­is­tence.

The story of one of Ire­land’s most com­plex jok­ers is thus given a glib, by-num­bers sim­plic­ity. Alive to the bru­tal in­jus­tice of a school nun (Pauline McLynn), Allen is pro­tected by an older brother, be­reaved young, re­born as a co­me­dian in But­lin’s, and soon cat­a­pulted into fame as an icon­o­clast and racon­teur with an end­less sup­ply of sharp tai­lor­ing.

Any­one new to Allen, how­ever, will strug­gle to find this ac­cel­er­ated ver­sion of the man amus­ing. That’s partly be­cause the sketches cho­sen for re-cre­ation sug­gest an un­canny eye for Allen’s weak­est ma­te­rial, most in­volv­ing a Mex­i­can fir­ing squad, and partly be­cause while Ai­dan Gillen looks the part, suave and suited, he is hardly the world’s most nat­u­ral comic ac­tor. With an in­to­na­tion that often re­calls his metal­lic por­trayal of Charles Haughey, Gillen misses Allen’s smooth sense of au­thor­ity – some­thing that made his iras­ci­ble anti-au­thor­ity rou­tines all the fun­nier.

With an­other high-pro­file cameo in the shape of Con­leth Hill as Allen’s al­co­holic brother John, we get an overde­ter­mined reck­on­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween broth­ers (“I hate your suc­cess – it high­lights my fail­ure”). There again Allen’s fa­ther might have been bet­ter heeded: “That’s a sure sign of over plan­ning with ill-in­tent,” says the old man when he hears too neat a fable.

The in­ten­tions of Dave Allen At Peace are en­tirely hon­ourable, but Allen, you feel, would have told it so much bet­ter.

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