TV Viewpoint: Smother and Meghan, Harry and Oprah

A 50th Birthday Party Leads to Tragedy in RTE One’s new Sunday night drama

THERE’S always a bit of anticipation when a new Irish produced drama hits RTE. Remember when Dublin Murders distracted us from lockdown for a few weeks? Dead Still was a surprisingly competent recent effort (but I think the less said about the well below-par The South Westerlies, the better).

Smother arrived on Sunday evening, boasting the chicly moody production values of prestige TV. After a dramatic prelude, the story began with a 50th birthday party taking place in the beautiful coastal home of Val, Denis and their three adult daughters.

Furtive glances, and barely concealed raised-eyebrows and side-eyes all indicated the various pickles each of the family were enduring while putting on happy faces for this party.

Dervla Kirwan in Smother

Everything came to a champagne flute-smashing head when Denis decided to hijack the speeches honouring his wife’s 51st year by nonchalantly announcing to the gathered crowd that his gift to her was to set her free, much to the shock and amazement of the guests, and horror of the couple’s daughters.

The next thing we know, the pre-credits scenes of a man moodily brooding on what looks like the Cliffs of Moher before being bashed over the head is returned to; it’s Denis, he’s dead, and Val has the dubious honour of formally identifying the body.

The aftermath reveals more about the complicated family. One of the daughters’ partner is a father of two teenage boys, whose mother has recently arrived back on the scene. They’ve all been estranged and she’s about to give up any legal right to them, but there is more to the story than what first meets the eye.

Denis’s brother confirms to Val once she’s done a bit of digging through her late husband’s desk that his finances are in a bad way, and he’s about to sell the café he bought for younger daughter Grace. Grace has further issues of her own; she’s found out her ex and her best friend are together, pregnant and getting married, and has gone off the medication she’s been taking for a mental illness.

There are another few little side-stories to keep track off, giving the overall impression that every idea that was thought of to add intrigue was shoved in. There are a lot of characters and too many minor storylines that won’t go anywhere but with that, there’s plenty to hold interest.

Episode two airs next Sunday at 9:30, and the first can be caught up with on the RTE Player. If all the storylines don’t appeal, the scenery might; it was filmed in Lahinch, and showcases the surroundings perfectly. There’s also some lovely interior inspiration to eye up, in the vein of Home of the Year, all huge windows and tasteful greys, a Scandinavian feel befitting this attempt at Irish noir.

I hate to admit it, but I have been swept up into the tabloid whirlwind of the Meghan and Harry saga. It’s been very much framed as a black and white narrative, the Sussex’s versus the Palace, Meghan v Kate, Harry v William, populists v royalists; you get the picture.

Meghan has her defenders, saying she’s strong-willed, kind, generous, loyal. She also has her detractors saying she’s a bully, too ambitious, too American. Too mixed-race.

I’d say the majority of people simply don’t care about what’s going on in this real-life soap opera (or if they do it’s in a nosy-neighbour curtain twitching sort of way, having their opinion and then moving on with their own lives), and I’d say that most Irish people couldn’t give two hoots about the royals across the way.

But because the vocal minority (including frothy mouthed columnists like Piers Morgan and Meghan defenders like her celebrity friends from her acting days) reigns supreme, this is deemed as big news, and thus gets prime-time airtime.

Meghan and Oprah

RTE Two saw fit to show the interview on Monday night, and amongst the revelations was that Meghan didn’t get the help she needed when she was really struggling with her mental health. There may have been a touch of poor little rich couple about some of the pair’s woes, but to be refused treatment for mental health issues is truly deplorable.

No matter what we think about the institution of the royal family, and the astronomical privilege it affords people born into it, the rights to privacy and healthcare being denied is unacceptable. Maybe in some way this interview will create these kinds of talking points of value.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 10 03 21

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