THE first 90-minute episode of RTÉ’s television drama Charlie, which charts the career and private life of one of Ireland’s most colourful politicians Charles Haughey, aired on Sunday.
A total of 724,000 viewers tuned in with a further 21,000 watching on RTÉ One +1.
For most observers and critics the drama was entertaining, accurate and illuminating, with Aidan Gillen in the title role earning many plaudits.
The production deals with the many layers that made up the complex life of Charlie Haughey — his ascent to the top of the political pole, his long affair with journalist Terry Keane, and the corruption that allowed him to live a life of high luxury that his salary as Taoiseach could not possibly have supported.
The three-part drama follows the facts of Haughey’s life but remains entertaining by not getting overly bogged down in the minutiae of the politics of the time.
In the first episode, The Rise, writer Colin Teevan gets to grips from the outset with Haughey’s ‘Napoleonic complex’ that most political observers believe was a crucial aspect of his character throughout his career.
The episode, which deals with the ascent of Haughey to the office of Taoiseach in 1979, demonstrates that he was a man of enormous ability and ruthless ambition.
However he was also someone with deep character flaws, questionable morals and petty obsessions — he held no small grudge against those from more privileged backgrounds.
Love/Hate’s Gillen, no stranger to playing devious politicians, manages to bring this multi-faceted character out very skillfully.
This is the first time RTÉ drama has commissioned a series about a political figure — the channel has been very wary of litigation, particularly in the wake of the high-profile case over Mission to Prey, a documentary which made false allegations about a priest.
And so even though Charles Haughey is now dead, the drama had to be both sensitive and factual to avoid further controversy.
Screenwriter, Colin Teevan, is on record as saying that he pitched Charlie for a general audience — and particularly for younger people, who might not be aware of how much Haughey dominated Irish politics in the 1980s and 1990s.
Certainly with some of the cast of highly successful drama Love/Hate on board, casual viewers may be pulled in, and a younger audience possibly encouraged to watch.
But certainly for those who lived through the Haughey era, the first episode proved to be a riveting watch.