Especially for alto2
, non-spoilery commentary on The Hanging Gale
I didn't realize until I got the disc from Netflix that it's a four-part series, not two parts, so I only saw the first two hour-long episodes. I think I'll eventually get around to watching the other two episodes, but it might take a while.
I'm definitely getting the impression that it's all going to end on a note very similar to The Field
, which I watched for my Irish Lit. class in sophomore year. Perhaps there won't exactly be an old guy herding his cows off a cliff and to their deaths in the crashing sea below, then going out into the ocean himself and trying to fight off the tide with his cane while the dead cows float around him, but something not far off from that, I think, is not unlikely. So far, it is, to quote Ellen, "Depressing like a fat operatic Viking woman, with one of those horned hats, standing on your foot. Depressing like that." Given that they're in the middle of the potato famine, this...seems unlikely to change. (Although there was a darkly hilarious moment when the land agent tells some farmers that he'll defer their rents until after that year's harvest, which he "prays will be bountiful." And then you realize, when you remember that it's 1846, exactly how ironic this is, and if you're me, you giggle a bit. Possibly I'm evil.)
In general, it seems a bit like Eavan Boland's poem That the Science of Cartography Is Limited
has been made into a miniseries. Or at any rate, the subplot about a proposed famine road, as well as the line (paraphrased), "Why do you want to build a road that starts nowhere and ends in a bog?" could have been pulled from that poem. And--
Okay, actually, let me explain something first. Since middle school, I've been intensely interested in Irish history and Irish literature. I wrote at least eight or nine papers on either subject (mostly on W.B. Yeats or the Fenian movement) during college, and took one class in 20th Century Irish Lit, as well as another Lit. class with a lot of Irish stuff in it and two history classes with large components on Irish history from about 1200 on. And I've done quite a bit of reading on my own. Consequently, these days I feel a bit, well, jaded about anything dealing with something like the famine, and I like it to have some edge I haven't seen before. This doesn't, so much. It's grittier (and the location shooting is certainly muddier) than you usually see, and there's more violence, but beyond that, there's not much new. Also, it's hampered by many of the actors playing "outrage" as scenery-chewing hyenas, when most times quiet, deadly fuming would be a lot more effective. Some of the dialogue is mind-bendingly bad, as well--of course, after seeing Monty Python and the Holy Grail
, I find it difficult to laugh at anyone who says, "We're being oppressed" with a straight face, so perhaps some of it is just me. ;)
The biggest difficulty I had with it, though, is that I CANNOT TELL THE McGANN BROTHERS APART. Honestly. They all look so
much alike. Joe and Mark, who play the two brothers still living at home, thankfully had different hairstyles and so after a bit, I figured out who was who. On the other hand, Paul and Stephen(? the one who played Daniel, the schoolteacher) could be twins. It doesn't help that they both dress in black cloaks, both have dark hair that's nearly chin-length and is a little bit curly, and both have blue eyes. It honestly took me until the second episode, where they were standing next to each other, to realize that they were two separate people. *facepalm* I thought that Paul was playing the schoolteacher, who (I think--it might be the priest, but probably it's the schoolteacher) murders the first land agent at the very beginning of the first episode, and continued to think it was Paul until the second episode, when a priest who looked remarkably like the schoolteacher showed up and began doing priestly things. I thought for a while that perhaps he was multitasking by teaching school as well, and then remembered that this same guy had also been canoodling (or whatever) with a girl in the first episode, and went, "Wait a minute." For a brief moment, I wondered if something very strange had happened and he was actually an Anglican priest and was thus allowed to do these things, and then finally they put the two characters in a room together and my brain exploded.
The only difference I can make out between them is that Stephen's voice is a little bit higher, and he looks a bit more like Alan Rickman-as-Snape. (I swear, it's the black robe.) Seriously, in later scenes, when it wasn't obviously Paul/Liam (i.e., when he was wearing the dog collar), I actually had to wait for someone to say the character's name or otherwise verbally tell the audience which brother it was before I knew. Here, here's photo evidence: Paul/Liam
, both of them in profile
. Can you
tell them apart without thinking really hard about it?
Another strike against it was the exceptionally large, interrelated cast; it took me until the second episode to figure out which brother Maeve was married to, or indeed if she was actually married to any of them and not just a sister. I think her brother was the guy who gets shot early on (not the land agent, but another guy), and his
sister is, I think the one who captures Daniel's eye. And there's approximately five million other characters spread all over the place, and eventually I just have to throw up my hands in defeat. Large casts, when not well-differentiated--or relegated to their individual subplots, with little or no crossover--have a tendency to frustrate me to no end.
I dunno...after all that, I can't say that it's bad. It's obviously been well-researched, and the bleakness of the locations and weather they chose to shoot in works well. There's some particularly fine acting from Paul McGann and Mark McGann, the latter especially when ( spoiler )
. I think it possibly suffers from the effect of having a million things which cover a lot of the same material show up after it broke the ground for this kind of thing eleven years ago. (Thanks in large part to Riverdance
. I kid you not; I wrote a paper on the incredible "New Irish Renaissance" spurred by that production, which premiered the same year this aired, I believe.) So, if you're a relative newbie to Irish studies and you like large casts (and can tell McGann brothers apart), it's definitely worth seeing.
Okay, wow, that was long. Shutting up now...