My review of the much talked about Charlie
“All I’m doing is just living” This was one of the opening lines of the first episode of RTE’s three-part series, “Charlie” which aired throughout January. The show, which cost RTE an estimated €4 million to produce, was highly anticipated by Irish audiences as never before had the state broadcaster aired such a programme about a political figure. And let’s not forget this wasn’t just any political figure, this was the man who coined the phrase “GUBU” – the black prince of Irish politics, Charles Haughey.
Played by esteemed actor, Aiden Gillen (most notable for his roles as John Boy in Love/Hate and Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in Game of Thrones), the sheer charisma and lust for power that drives Haughey to become Taoiseach is captured brilliantly by Gillen. While Gillen’s hairstyle throughout the show may be more similar to Vincent Browne’s than Haughey’s actual appearance, no better actor out there could have been chosen to articulate both the political and personal elements of Haughey’s life. Gillen’s portrayal of Haughey as a concerned Taoiseach in his famous “living beyond our means” speech is contrasted with the Gatsby-like party that Haughey throws to celebrate his ousting of Jack Lynch, as Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach in Abbeyville.
Charlie’s political wingmen and rivals are also aptly portrayed throughout the series. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Nidge to you and me) gives an excellent turn as Haughey’s secretary, PJ Meara, proving he has the ability to act as a political gangster aswell as a run-of-the-mill one. However critics were more scathing of his Love/Hate co-star, Peter O’ Meara’s playing of the then Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan Snr. Lenihan’s role in the show seems to be only one of comic entertainment and as a bumbling oaf, rather than a believable political force. Even Lenihan’s sister, former TD, Mary O’ Rourke has expressed the portrayal of her bother in the series as “worrying”. On a more positive note, English actress, Lucy Cohu adds some much needed sparkle to the show, in her role as Haughey’s mistress Terry Keane, while Risteard Cooper embodies the political tact of secretary to the government, Dermot Nally, superbly.
The pace of the show proves somewhat of a problem. Perhaps the writers were more concerned with cramming political facts and information into the series rather than taking time to focus on the man himself, allowing for the obvious question that perhaps the series would have been better served as a four or five episode drama, rather than a compact three-part series.
“Charlie”, much like the real-life man was bound to divide opinions. You either loved or loathed him, worshipped or reviled him. Colin Teevan, writer of “Charlie”, encapsulates the true meaning of the series and the mind behind the man “It’s a story about power- what power does to the individual and what the individual does with power”.