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So was the final episode of Charlie actually any good?

Review: The final part of the landmark RTÉ drama whizzes through Haughey’s final years in office.

A greyer Aidan Gillen in the final episode of Charlie.
A greyer Aidan Gillen in the final episode of Charlie.
Image: RTÉ Player

THE FINAL EPISODE of ‘Charlie’ focuses on his final years as Taoiseach having made the wise decision to gloss over Charles Haughey’s wilderness years which were spent in opposition, making odd documentaries for Channel 4.

We see a grey and wrinkled Aidan Gillen, who is once again excellent as Haughey, as he become ever more obsessed with power and his legacy, while trying desperately to cling to power as scandals abound.

The programme makes much of the death of his mother and the Haughey’s desire to achieve something tangible in the North with her words ringing in his ears. In one scene we see him place a 1916 veteran ‘s medal into her hand as she lies in repose.

In another Brian Lenihan asks Haughey if he misses her to which there is no reply, while the addition of his late mother’s chair to the Abbeville mansion is noted more than once.

Several characters are introduced for the first time in this episode including the late Fr Alec Reid whom Haughey seeks out in a bid to make progress in the north. Ben Dunne also makes two key appearances including the infamous “thanks big fella” scene at Abbeville after Dunne hands Haughey over £200,000. 

While there was a much better pace to episode two, episode three again seems like a frantic dash to the finish line as it crams in as much as possible in the final three years of Haughey’s reign.

There is much to cover which leads once again to the jarring exposition of events by characters throughout. This includes Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s PJ Mara rather hilariously having to explain to Haughey what the Johnston Mooney & O’Brien/Eircom site controversy is all about. This is hardly credible and it’s what consistently let the drama down.

haughey 2

That said Vaughan-Lawlor really comes into his own as Mara. While the first episode saw his influence wildly overstated, and he was on the sidelines of the second, we really see the government press secretary at his devastating and aggressive best here as he tries to put a lid on the various crises engulfing Haughey.

It’s a shame that Peter O’Meara’s Lenihan came across so badly in the first two episodes as he isn’t nearly as imbecilic in this episode. Greyer and more wrinkled we see him clash with Haughey over his desire for the presidency and the ‘on mature recollection’ foul-up.

There’s a touching recreation of a well-known story where Lenihan, despite having been sacked by Haughey, is the only member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party to pay a visit to the Taoiseach as he packs up his office (although would Haughey really have filled up the boxes himself?)

Haughey’s potential successors, Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds, are well-portrayed by Gus McDonagh and Fergal McElherron respectively. Both come into their own in this episode although the latter’s accent isn’t quite up to scratch.

There’s a crucial reappearance of Seán Doherty, who is a politician scorned in an early scene where he clashes with Haughey claiming “I am owed!”. We see him again as he drops the dirt on the Taoiseach in that infamous Nighthawks interview.

The conclusion is predictable of course. Haughey departs Government Buildings while reciting that final Dáil speech - “I have done the State some service, they know it, no more of that.”

A poignant final shot sees him gazing at an imaginary seashore where a sandcastle crumbles under the force of the sea. It’s a metaphor for Haughey’s legacy and a somewhat fitting end to a drama that undoubtedly had its fault but in the end did the State some service.

Review: So, was episode two of Charlie actually any good?

Review: So after all the hype was episode one of Charlie actually any good?

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Hugh O'Connell

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