TV Viewpoint: Máthair and The Late Late Show

I think everyone knows some variation of the phrase behind every good man is a better woman, which is pretty much what Máthair, a new documentary series on TG4 endeavours to prove. Beginning last week with Lady Jane Wilde, or Speranza, as she was known in her professional life, the mother of Oscar Wilde paid no small part in the making of the iconic man.

Jane Wilde, aka Speranza

The first part of the programme focused on Jane’s early life, and revealed the fame and respect she enjoyed as a poet, essayist and journalist not only in Ireland and Europe but North America as well. She wrote prolifically, and although she was born into an Anglo-Irish Protestant family she became fervently Republican. Writing in The Nation, an editorial titled A Die is Cast that she penned while Charles Gavan Duffy on leave was interpreted as the British government as call to armed rebellion; although when the paper was taken to court over the matter no one would believe that it was she, a mere woman, who wrote it.

Expert contributers speaking both in English and as Gaeilge agree that Lady Wilde was a particularly devoted mother to her three children, and brought them up unusually for the time. They were encouraged to mingle with guests at her and her husband’s parties and salons, and took them on cultural excursions to galleries, museums and to the theatre. She was a flamboyant character, and knew instinctively about promoting her ‘brand’, way before this sort of affectation and performance was du jour. Her son, Oscar, almost certainly learned how to work the room from her.

Her husband was William Wilde, a doctor and writer in his own right, with, by all accounts, a colourful private and public life. The spouses got caught up in a very publicised scandal, involving a young woman named Mary Travers. They never recovered from the controversy, and when William died twelve years later Jane was forced to sell up their house on Merrion Square and move to London to live with Oscar.

The second half of the programme began somewhat ironically, as it focused almost entirely on Oscar and his own scandals. That it was with great sorrow that she became Oscar Wilde’s mother, rather than Oscar being known as being her son, that her life-long identity was reduced and her work forgotten, and now, in tandem the programme has shifted focus to her offspring is slightly incongruous. However, it would be a shame to quibble over that, as the subject is presented as the mother of someone, and it was generally a very well-produced documentary.

With dramatisations, charming sketches, authentic examples of her work and reliable experts Máthair gave an overall comprehensive look at the life and times of the poet Speranza. This episode was the first of four, which continues tonight (Wednesday) at 9.30 with a focus on Maud Gonne.

Did you catch The Late, Late on Friday? It was the second week without an audience, where Tubs soldiered on with interviews via video call and had the requisite coronavirus updates, all without the support of a whooping and cheering audience. It was absolutely jarring to see the studio free of any body bar Ryan Tubridy, who, it turns out, is a good man to have on the airwaves in a crisis. His opening monologue acknowledged the strain a huge number of viewers must be under, with many either having lost (hopefully temporarily) their jobs, or are working from home while trying to home-school their kids.

The Late Late Show with an audience,
in happier times

These issues are the tip of the iceberg when our nation’s health is on the line, which is why the segment that demonstrated a coronavirus test was so important. It really helps to have all the information possible, especially if one tends to be slightly distrustful or nervous of all the medical professionals in gowns and masks, or wary of needles (which aren’t required at all for this procedure), so in showing the process calmly and clinically, some of the fear will have been assuaged. In addition to corona talk Ryan had a slew of guests appear via video call, and those who were in studio, including Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr. Tony Hollohan, who composedly updated Ryan on the latest Covid-19 developments, were separated by the requisite two metres.

The host asked all the right questions and towed the line really well between the more serious subject matter and the lighter, nicer fare, including the introduction of Munster rugby player Billy Holland and his wife Lanlih’s new born baby boy. As Ryan said at the start of the show, we’re all in this together, and a show of support by the national broadcaster to the wider public is a small but welcome gesture.

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