Mary keeps faith with families, while Roses are starting to wilt
When this week’s World Meeting of Families removed any mention of LGBT relationships from its publicity material, Mary McAleese decided not to attend its pastoral congress in Dublin. “We realised”, the former president said towards the end of Mary McAleese’s Modern Family (RTE1), “that we were just not welcome”. That’s because she has a gay son, and it led her further to wonder if, given these circumstances, the current pope would be welcoming, either.
That, though, was the only radical stance she took in a film that generally was so mindful of Catholic beliefs as to be almost pietistic in its approving references to the role of faith in family life.
It was also full of little homilies and epiphanies, with various of the interviewees being granted the presenter’s personal stamp of approval. “God bless you, you’re just fantastic”, she told the financially-struggling mother of four autistic children, while informing the viewer that “she has so much to teach this country, this church”.
Similarly, a couple who had children from earlier relationships along with their own would have been pleased to learn that they had “created a wonderful family”, while it must have been gratifying for the family of a Zimbabwean man and an Irish woman to discover that “you’re part of the new Ireland”.
I like and admire the Mary McAleese I’ve observed as president and as eloquent tussler with a hidebound Catholic church, but this earnest film was full of bog-standard observations and threadbare insights that were no more than worthy platitudes.
“Irish society and family life have changed dramatically since 1979”, she gravely informed us, and in The Whole World in His Hands (TG4), a 1989 film about Pope John Paul II’s visit a decade earlier, we saw some of those dramatic changes.
Here was a long-haired Colm Toibin recalling the “glamorous” occasion, a much younger Michael D Higgins fretting about the “reductionist” aspects of the occasion, and a star-struck Nell McCafferty enthusing about the “gorgeous, good-looking and virile” John Paul II.
That pontiff also had many fans in The Pope and I (BBC1), filmed in Belfast and featuring devotees from that city of all things papal. “He was like a rock star”, one man recalled. “I’d put him next to Elvis”, a woman said.
Even in its early years, The Rose of Tralee (RTE1) has always looked parochial and patronising and fundamentally sexist, though in ways that weren’t always easy to define.
Now, though, we’re in the time — indeed the year — of #MeToo, with male assumptions under fierce scrutiny and demands about female entitlement to the fore, and suddenly this contest registers not just as quaintly old-fashioned but as positively bizarre.
Watching it over two nights this week, I tried to imagine a contest in which 32 young men were brought on stage to talk about their mammies and daddies and girlfriends and jobs and then were required to sing a song, dance a jig or lift their female interviewer on to their backs.
And I further tried to imagine that when all the interviews were finished, these men would then be required to troop on to the stage, four at a time and holding hands with each other while simultaneously waving at the cheering audience.
It could never happen, of course, except perhaps in a Pythonesque skit, but it’s at the heart of a show that, for all its laboured gestures towards the social media age, acts as if nothing really has changed since RTE started broadcasting it 51 years ago. Indeed, the contestants are still coiffed and clothed as if they were in a 1950s fashion show.
And the recent practice of inviting far more contestants to Tralee than are needed for the television contest and then culling almost 30 of them before that televised event is grotesquely unfair to these participants and their families, many of whom have travelled from afar, and should be terminated immediately.
So, in my view, should the show itself, though that won’t happen, and in the interests of balance I should say that I watched part of the second night in the company of five-and-a-halfyear-old Sylvia, who was of the firm opinion that most of the lavish ballgowns were only divine and that the jigs and reels being danced by some of the contestants were the absolute bee’s knees. I didn’t dare argue.
In Bollywood: The World’s Biggest Film Industry (BBC2), I learned that Indian studios produce three times as many movies as Hollywood and that the top actors are “the wealthiest and most worshipped stars on earth”.
This extravagant claim came from presenter Anita Rani, who further informed me that almost half of India’s 1.3 billion population are under the age of 25.
The industry also has an obsession with fair skin, with whitening cosmetics flying off the shelves in a bid to create a more westernised look. Hence the demand for western white performers — young women from Britain can earn £1,000 a month and have all their living expenses covered just to appear as bit players in song-and-dance sequences.
Meanwhile, Better Call Saul (Netflix) is getting darker with each new episode, this week’s leading off with a violent scene in the New Mexico desert.
Back in town, Jimmy is reduced to organising the theft of a Hummel figure just to get a bit of cash, while Kim is becoming ever more worried about him.
The way things are heading she’ll have cause to be concerned, though the viewer’s concern is for herself. After all, Jimmy ended up as Saul in Breaking Bad, but Kim was nowhere to be seen in that series.
McAleese’s earnest film was full of bog-standard observations and threadbare insights that were no more than worthy platitudes
Crowd pleaser: Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Ireland was the subject of two films this week while (below) Mary McAleese was mindful of Catholic beliefs in her documentary