Hume film fails to pro­vide a full pic­ture of com­plex peace­maker

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - & - John Boland

When a doc­u­men­tary’s first in­ter­vie­wee is Bill Clin­ton, closely fol­lowed by Jimmy Carter and Bono, you know you’re watch­ing some­thing very im­por­tant, es­pe­cially when you also get to hear from Ber­tie Ahern, Tony Blair, Enda Kenny, Gerry Adams and John Ma­jor.

This was the line-up for John Hume in Amer­ica (RTÉ1), a 90-minute ac­count of how the Derry politi­cian helped to bring peace to North­ern Ire­land. In­deed, the only cru­cial per­son miss­ing was the now 81-year-old man him­self, who has been suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia for some years and whose ill health, an end cap­tion in­formed us, pre­vented him from on­screen par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Some­one, though (prob­a­bly pro­ducer-direc­tor Mau­rice Fitz­patrick), should have brought more clar­ity to a film that will have be­mused younger view­ers who have lit­tle knowl­edge of the Trou­bles and its his­tory. We heard much from the great and the good about Hume’s cru­cial role in forg­ing ties with in­flu­en­tial Ir­ish-Amer­i­can politi­cians, but the bloody con­flict back home wasn’t given any real his­tor­i­cal or po­lit­i­cal con­text. In­stead we heard much in­sider, though not ter­ri­bly in­ter­est­ing, sto­ries from for­mer Ir­ish diplo­mats and ad­vis­ers who were based in the US and who had ob­served at first hand Hume’s ca­jol­ings and ma­noeu­vrings in his bid to achieve an end to vi­o­lence and a last­ing peace be­tween both sides.

Yet in a film that had such a starry cast of politi­cians and pop stars, there wasn’t one mem­o­rable sound­bite from any of them, though near the end I was in­trigued by Hume’s for­mer deputy Sea­mus Mal­lon when he ob­served that Hume tended to go off on “solo runs” that could be “very dis­turb­ing” and that he was a man who “could not take crit­i­cism well, wouldn’t take it at all” and who “al­ways pre­ferred to be on his own”.

This pro­vided a glimpse of a more com­plex in­di­vid­ual than the film was will­ing to coun­te­nance, and in the end we ended up know­ing very lit­tle about the per­son it had come to praise.

At the out­set of Bet­ter Call Saul’s fourth sea­son (Netflix), we saw shys­ter lawyer Jimmy McGill asleep in bed with his col­league and lover Kim Wexler. As the cam­era lin­gered over them, we noted that Kim’s right arm was in a cast and that her face was scarred by cuts, though it took a while for de­voted view­ers to re­call that in the last sea­son a tired and stressed Kim had crashed her car.

This is the way of Bet­ter Call Saul, which doesn’t of­fer handy re­caps of pre­vi­ous oc­cur­rences for new­com­ers and also takes its time over ev­ery scene it shows. This could be te­dious but in­stead, in the hands of Vince Gil­li­gan and co-cre­ator Peter Gould and their bril­liant cine­matog­ra­pher, it’s ab­so­lutely riv­et­ing. Th­ese peo­ple, you sense, know ex­actly what they’re do­ing.

And so a scene, for rea­sons not yet clear, Jimmy’s tac­i­turn ac­quain­tance Mike, a qui­etly dan­ger­ous man if ever there was one, im­per­son­ated a com­pany worker and drove around a vast ware­house in a buggy, was ut­terly com­pelling through­out its mostly di­a­logue-free eight min­utes.

And Gil­li­gan and Gould are dab hands, too, at con­found­ing our ex­pec­ta­tions. There was a sub­ur­ban scene in which a mid­dle-aged man was de­layed from start­ing his car by a young son who needed his bi­cy­cle chain fixed. When he fi­nally put his key in the ig­ni­tion, you ex­pected an ex­plo­sion but it didn’t hap­pen.

Jimmy, mean­while, has been slowly but in­ex­orably chang­ing from the love­able ras­cal of the open­ing sea­sons. By now, he’s on his way to be­com­ing Saul Good­man, the amoral fixer with whom Wal­ter White hitched up in Break­ing Bad. This was sig­nalled by the fi­nal scene in which he al­lowed blame­less lawyer Howard to think him­self com­plicit in the death of Jimmy’s brother Chuck. “Well, Howard,” he said, “I guess that’s your cross to bear” — a line that would never have been said by the fun­da­men­tally de­cent Jimmy of old and that caused Kim to shoot him a trou­bled glance.

Break­ing Bad ran for 62 episodes over five sea­sons, and al­ready a fifth sea­son of Bet­ter Call Saul is in the works, which will bring it to 50 episodes. It might even over­take Break­ing Bad in episodes, which would prob­a­bly be over­stretch­ing it, but so far I’m not com­plain­ing.

Given the in­ven­tive skills of Gil­li­gan and Gould and the mar­vel­lous play­ing by Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy, Rhea See­horn as Kim, Jonathan Banks as Mike, as well as ter­rific sup­port­ing char­ac­ters, I re­main just as hooked now as when it be­gan over three years ago.

Cree­don’s Road Less Trav­elled (RTÉ1) ended its three-week run with a trip from Dublin to Belfast — or, as the host him­self put it, “just me and my Cortina me­an­der­ing north­wards”.

And so he me­an­dered into Bal­brig­gan, where he found a Nige­rian preacher con­duct­ing a Pen­te­costal ser­vice in a GAA club. Then he me­an­dered into Drogheda, where he learned how the town’s viaduct got built. Af­ter that he me­an­dered up to Dundalk, where he met the sons of a one-armed soc­cer player who had brought fame to the town.

Fi­nally, he me­an­dered into Hills­bor­ough Castle, where he met Tony Blair’s for­mer press sec­re­tary Alas­tair Camp­bell, who pos­si­bly hangs around such places hop­ing to be in­ter­viewed — cer­tainly you can hardly turn on the ra­dio or TV with­out Alas­tair be­ing there. Any­way, he in­formed John that Brexit was a “catas­tro­phe”, which was use­ful to learn.

As for my­self, I me­an­dered back to John’s nightly show on Ra­dio 1, where he’s al­ways con­ge­nial com­pany and plays some damn good mu­sic, too.

I was in­trigued by John Hume’s for­mer deputy Sea­mus Mal­lon when he ob­served that Hume tended to go off on ‘solo runs’ that could be ‘very dis­turb­ing’


Praise: This week’s RTÉ doc­u­men­tary on John Hume, left, in­cluded a trib­ute from Bono, right.

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