REBELLION HAS BEEN pulling in the viewers for RTÉ on Sunday nights since the start of the year.
And while there was always going to be interest in any Irish production going out in what’s now come to be known as the ‘Love/Hate slot’ – the fact that it was the marquee drama of the 1916 centenary meant there was a heightened curiosity factor ahead of the first episode.
Reaction to that debut outing was largely positive – and while many viewers agreed that the drama was holding up last weekend, others took to social media to take issue with the way events were depicted.
Considering that the Rising is of such significance in Irish history, the response comes as no great surprise to the drama’s director.
“All the five episodes are quite different – so reactions might be quite different to three than they were to two,” says Aku Louhimies, who is a highly-regarded director and screenwriter in his native Finland.
This is definitely a period of history in Ireland that people have different emotions about, or strongly disagree over.
Much of the commentary in the wake of last Sunday’s episode focused on the killing of James O’Brien, the unarmed RIC officer who was shot by the Irish Citizen Army at the gates of Dublin Castle.
While the drama depicts the policeman refusing several times Captain Seán Connolly’s commands to open the gate, historical accounts describe the events happening much more quickly – with O’Brien being shot as he attempted to close the entrance on the rebels.
In a phone interview with TheJournal.ie, Louhimies says one of his conditions of taking the job was that the events depicted would have to have been historically proven.
I have to trust that it’s accurate script-wise if it’s gone through historians and they’ve said it’s okay to do this way, then I assume it’s right.
That said – the production is a drama, he adds. He doesn’t necessarily entertain every line of criticism he encounters.
There’s some people say – here, Pearse wasn’t that tall. That’s irrelevant… I have to pick the best possible actor for a role.
As far as the events of 1916 are concerned, historians have different interpretations of what happened, he adds.
When it comes to putting together each episode:
We decide in this drama, it’s going to be like this.
Who is Aku Louhimies?
With more than two decades of experience as a director under his belt, Louhimies has helmed everything from documentaries to TV series, along with eight feature films.
He characterises all of his non-documentary work as “drama” he says.
Some lighter, some darker.
His Irish agent, Richard Cook, put him in contact with RTÉ as Rebellion was being planned, he says – and he became involved with the script in the early stages.
While the fact that he was something of an outsider may have had something to do with him getting the job in the first place, the director was familiar with the Rising from his history studies.
Louhimies says his military experience informed his approach to the role (service is a requirement in Finland and the director remains a reserve officer to this day, with a rank of lieutenant).
It’s one of those things when you run around with guns… I don’t want to make killing too much of an entertainment. I would not want to romanticise any kind of violence ever – even though I’m sure it’s necessary sometimes, and sometimes it happens.
Before filming started, he “wanted the actors to shoot with real guns, to understand what it’s like to carry one”.
He also sought to demystify and de-romanticise some aspects of the Rising he says, cautioning:
It doesn’t make the significance of this happening any different.
Viewers of last week’s episode will have noted how characters in Rebellion almost never die as soon as they’re shot – with some lying in the streets for prolonged periods after attacks.
As Louhimies stresses, in real-life people “suffer for days before dying”. It’s all part of the Finn’s effort to prick the romanticisation of the State’s founding event.
The 47-year-old said he would be keen to follow the public reaction here to the final episodes of the drama.
He was also full of praise for the Irish film and TV industry during our interview – and talking in glowing terms about Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, which was nominated for an Oscar this week.
Touching on another minor criticism of the show raised by some viewers, the fact that it was so reliant on Love/Hate for its cast, he said he hadn’t even seen the Dublin crime drama before he took the Rebellion job.
“I didn’t look at their CVs,” he says.
They must have chosen good actors for that show as well.