Len­nie James combs his past for clues to find his miss­ing daugh­ter in ‘Save Me’; Ea­van Boland’s life and work are ex­pertly in­ter­min­gled in ‘Is It Still the Same’, and Philip Boucher-Hayes is not se­ri­ous about his diet in ‘What Are You Eat­ing?’

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

Sound and screen re­views

Late in the sec­ond episode of Save Me (Sky At­lantic, Wed­nes­day, 9pm), a new six-part drama se­ries cre­ated by and star­ring Len­nie James, our dis­si­pated but charm­ing hero asks for help. “I’m way be­hind my­self and I need to catch up,” says Nelly Rowe, solemnly, and his words are freighted with dou­ble mean­ing.

The leg­endary es­tate drunk, given to acts of kind­ness and dis­tended karaoke ses­sions, Nelly be­gan the se­ries as the prime sus­pect for his long-es­tranged daugh­ter’s dis­ap­pear­ance, but quickly be­comes her seeker. The girl, Jody, was lured away by some­one im­per­son­at­ing Nelly on­line, draw­ing from un­canny ac­cess to the de­tails of his life. Now it ush­ers the real man into a scram­bling chase, piec­ing his his­tory back to­gether through a fog of drunk­en­ness, try­ing to fathom his life, in ev­ery sense, strug­gling to catch up with him­self.

“I’m noth­ing,” he told the po­lice when the show be­gan, but the clever thing about Save Me is that Nelly has to re­trieve his some­thing. For all its keen so­cial re­al­ism, the show is a spin on the de­tec­tive story, where Nelly must scour him­self and his friends for clues.

Nick Mur­phy’s metic­u­lous di­rec­tion – which of­ten makes the cam­era frame feel as claus­tro­pho­bic and con­fin­ing as the high-rise flats of Lon­don’s Dept­ford – in­vites both Nelly and the au­di­ence to take a closer look at grim sit­u­a­tions. Of­ten the cam­era alights on faces in pub­lic spa­ces who will melt as eas­ily back into the crowd as emerge as sig­nif­i­cant char­ac­ters. The more thorny of the lat­ter is Melon (the ter­rific Stephen Gra­ham), a long-time friend of Nelly’s and, he dis­cov­ers, a con­victed pe­dophile, whose claims to­wards re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion are hard to gauge.

“Proper f*ck­ing dark,” as Nelly says of his own predica­ment, but no one here is wholly good or en­tirely bad. Su­ranne Jones, as Jody’s an­guished mother, for in­stance, is heart­break­ingly be­liev­able whether help­lessly hug­ging the ac­tor of a Crime Line re­cre­ation video, or get­ting wasted at a pub lock-in after­wards – a fas­ci­nat­ing por­trait of a woman spin­ning through an unimag­in­able sit­u­a­tion. The ex­cel­lent Barry Ward, mean­while, adds to his al­ready im­pres­sive reper­toire of shady and un­re­li­able dad fig­ures.

Though Save Me is given to sen­sa­tional cliffhang­ers, it isn’t in­clined to wal­low in de­spair, fus­ing the thrill of genre with the tex­ture of life. All those faces, it knows, and their com­pli­cated in­ter­de­pen­den­cies, are the pow­ers that keep com­mu­ni­ties to­gether when all other sup­ports aban­don it. “We are the ones we’ve been wait­ing for,” goes a Hopi Na­tion say­ing. The char­ac­ters in Save Me know the feel­ing: and it’s they who must come to the res­cue.


As a se­ries of paint­ings flit across the screen, the poet Ea­van Boland gives an af­fect­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion. “My mother painted these beau­ti­ful, evoca­tive, quickly-made scenes,” she says, not­ing “the in­ti­macy of a very frag­ile mo­ment.” Ea­van Boland: Is It Still the Same (RTE One, Thurs­day, 10.15pm), an ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­tary on how the poet’s life and work in­ter­twine, recog­nises Boland’s abil­ity to do some­thing sim­i­lar, and, in its deft ap­pre­ci­a­tion, forges a fit­ting in­ti­macy of its own.

It helps that Boland is such an oblig­ing sub­ject; di­rect and dis­arm­ing in speech, nei­ther grand­stand­ing or re­treat­ing. She shares con­fi­dences freely, such as the sub­terfuge of her mother’s por­trait of Boland as a girl, com­pleted by en­list­ing her sis­ter as a model. Is there a sly echo of that trans­fer­ence when Boland con­fesses that her ex­quis­ite poem The Black Lace Fan My

Mother Gave Me jum­bles the char­ac­ters of her par­ents – “She was al­ways early./ He was late.” – graft­ing one’s trait to the other?

It’s an is­sue that pre­sent­ing poetry on tele­vi­sion has it­self long tack­led. Through­out Boland’s ca­reer, in fact, we see a num­ber of ap­proaches: recit­ing from a stool in a spot­light on The Late

Late Show in 1990, or read­ing by her fire­place on an arts show from 1987. Here, di­rec­tors Char­lie McCarthy and Declan Recks tend to an­i­mate her words with float­ing ti­tles that ad­dress the viewer, filmic vi­gnettes that mag­nify their de­tails, or, bet­ter still, merg­ing record­ings of Boland from decades ago with her recit­ing to cam­era to­day.

That is an at­ten­tive ma­noeu­vre. “Women are con­sid­ered young, im­mutable, but they very rarely grow,” says Boland of lit­er­a­ture, where a woman is of­ten the ob­ject and sel­dom the sub­ject. “If I was go­ing to grow older, I wanted to grow old in my poetry.”

That her pri­vate ex­pe­ri­ences spur her poetry is as po­lit­i­cally charged as her ac­tivism within the Women’s Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment, com­bat­ing marginal­i­sa­tion, si­lence and era­sure. In both ap­proaches, she is al­lied with Mary Robin­son, a close friend from their days in Trin­ity Col­lege. To see them in each other’s com­pany to­day – the dreamer and the prag­ma­tist, they agree, with

‘Women are con­sid­ered young, im­mutable, but they very rarely grow,’ says Boland of lit­er­a­ture, where a woman is of­ten the ob­ject and sel­dom the sub­ject. ‘If I was go­ing to grow older, I wanted to grow old in my poetry’

Robin­son the for­mer and Boland the lat­ter – is il­lu­mi­nat­ing and in­spir­ing.

In­ter­leav­ing her bi­og­ra­phy with her bib­li­og­ra­phy, the doc­u­men­tary will find an im­pe­tus be­hind Boland’s po­ems - be that the ex­ile of a peri­patetic child­hood, the bliss­ful early days of mar­riage, or breast feed­ing her first born – and let that lead the way. “I was go­ing to put the life I lived into the poem, no mat­ter what,” she says. That her poem Child of our Time, a mov­ing re­sponse to the Dublin bomb­ing in 1974, is both per­son­ally felt and pub­licly com­mit­ted, hardly con­tra­dicts that.

A pro­fes­sor in Stan­ford Univer­sity, Boland will elu­ci­date her work with­out less­en­ing its won­der, and will skewer a re­pres­sive so­ci­ety with a sharp eye for what lies be­neath it. (Her deft filet­ing of the no­to­ri­ously im­bal­anced Field Day

An­thol­ogy of Ir­ish Writ­ing – in which Boland was one of few women writ­ers in­cluded – is a mas­ter­class in pub­lic de­bate.)

Over a dense yet swift hour, the doc­u­men­tary hon­ours her as­ser­tion that the pri­vate ex­pe­ri­ence can an­i­mate pub­lic dis­cus­sion, un­fuss­ily show­ing Boland speak­ing at pub­lic events and univer­sity sem­i­nars, or at home with her grand­chil­dren, watch­ing Robin­son quot­ing her work from the stage of her in­au­gu­ra­tion, or re­laxed in her com­pany on her sofa. Like that grafted hand in Boland’s child­hood paint­ing, or the traits of her par­ents swapped in a verse, the doc­u­men­tary presents such fas­ci­nat­ing ex­changes that make lives and ex­pe­ri­ence whole.


Philip Boucher-Hayes is back on a diet. Hav­ing ex­plored Palae­olithic op­tions and a high pro­tein reg­i­men be­fore, What Are You Eat­ing? (RTE One, Thurs­day, 8pm) now turns its at­ten­tions to ve­g­an­ism, care­fully plot­ting a month-long diet for Boucher-Hayes which he only se­lec­tively fol­lows.

View­ers ac­cus­tomed to ironic fore­shad­ow­ing will note the ad­vice of his di­etary con­sul­tant who firmly ad­vises Boucher-Hayes to take vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments. Nah, says Boucher- Hayes, later stand­ing be­fore a su­per­mar­ket aisle crammed with them. “I’ve de­cided it would be much more in­ter­est­ing to not take one and see what hap­pens to my body,” he rea­sons, with the se­ri­ous in­ves­tiga­tive spirit Mor­gan Spur­lock once demon­strated be­fore com­mit­ting solely to McDon­ald’s. What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

If Boucher-Hayes never ra­di­ates any huge sin­cer­ity be­hind the un­der­tak­ing, it’s partly a con­se­quence of his re­flex sen­ten­tious­ness (“So it’s not just about run­ning away from meat and an­i­mal prod­ucts, but run­ning to­wards some­thing else?”) and the hammy ac­cen­tu­a­tions his voice ac­quires when­ever he’s fol­low­ing a script, as though read­ing a child a bed­time story. That can of­ten come across as witty: “Hi, my name is Philip, and I’ve been ve­gan for nine days,” he says to the ap­plause of the Ve­gan Dublin Food Tour, like a re­cov­er­ing meata­holic, ap­prov­ing later of the “meaty tex­ture” of a ve­gan sub­sti­tute.

The meaty tex­ture of the show is in the well-ar­gued eth­i­cal ob­jec­tions of ve­g­an­ism’s ad­her­ents to­wards the aw­ful con­di­tions of in­ten­sive farm­ing, and, daunted by that pas­sion, the trep­i­da­tion of its neo­phytes. “I see my­self as a ve­gan,” says one ve­gan sup­ply store em­ployee, cau­tiously, as though in fear of reprisals. Boucher-Hayes, how­ever, is look­ing for the flesh of en­ter­tain­ment. How else can you in­ter­pret his re­treat, be­fore the diet is over, to an atavis­tic camp where they slice open a duck with flint and cook its in­nards by a fire? Within a pro­gramme about ve­g­an­ism, it is a need­lessly an­tag­o­nis­tic and shal­low ges­ture, fol­low­ing in the spirit of Gerry Ryan’s “Lambo” provo­ca­tions.

Putting his health at risk, los­ing mus­cle and even bone den­sity for the lack of his rec­om­mended sup­ple­ments, Boucher-Hayes glibly re­jects not just a ve­gan diet but its ide­ol­ogy. “It’s just the kind of om­ni­vore I am,” he shrugs. Good for you, Philip. Now get stuffed.

Su­ranne Jones and Len­nie James in Save Me; Philip Boucher Hayes in What Are You Eat­ing?; Mary Robin­son and Ea­van Boland, who met as stu­dents at Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin. PHO­TO­GRAPHS: SKY AT­LANTIC / RUTH MEDJBER / RTÉ

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