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Charlie at the cabinet table. RTÉ Player

So, was episode two of Charlie actually any good?

Review: Aidan Gillen is excellent again but other characters come into their own in the second instalment.

AFTER THE FRANTIC pace of episode one, the decision to focus on just one year and not three in episode two of ‘Charlie’ proved a wise one last night, even if it was the action-packed 1982.

Aidan Gillen was once again masterful as Haughey, growing into the role even more as the RTÉ drama rattled through the extraordinary GUBU events of that year.

Right from the beginning, we see more of Haughey obsessed by securing power. The opening scene notes the unsuccessful and still-controversial attempt by Brian Lenihan to persuade President Patrick Hillery to allow Haughey to form a government without an election.

Once an election is held, Haughey is able to return to power with the help of independents, notably Tony Gregory (played by Laurence Kinlan) who frequently clashes with the Fianna Fáil man throughout the programme.

Both come from working class backgrounds and both apparently want to help their constituents. Haughey seeks common ground with Gregory by saying ‘the culchies’ keep undermining his plans for regenerating Dublin.

But while the Taoiseach speaks of grand visions for the capital with a financial centre to create ‘trickle down’ wealth, Gregory just wants houses with “a jacks inside”.

gregory Laurence Kinlan plays Tony Gregory RTÉ Player RTÉ Player

Gregory is a man who Haughey must do business with, but the man who he wants to do business with – in an attempt to undermine his nemesis Thatcher  - is French president Francois Mitterand whom he regards as a kindred spirit. 

The pair bring their mistresses – Lucy Kohu is again excellent as Terry Keane – on a trip to Haughey’s island, Inisvickillane.

Here we witness a GUBU-esque scene in itself as Mitterand encourages Haughey to indulge in the controversial French practice of eating a whole, cooked ortolan – a tiny Finch-like songbird – in the traditional way by concealing his head beneath a white napkin.

bird RTÉ Player RTÉ Player

It’s a bizarre scene interrupted by the emerging craziness back in Dublin where it has transpired that a man wanted for two notorious murders is in the home of the Attorney General.

In case none of the Malcolm McArthur controversy rings a bell, Haughey offers a helpful explanation of the significance of the events to a tearful Keane in the car on the way back to Dublin.

Character-wise, we thankfully see less of the bumbling Brian Lenihan although he is unfortunately still portrayed as some sort of imbecile. In one scene, he goes looking for a sandwich as Haughey courts Mitterand – and his mistress.

Tom Vaughan Lawlor’s PJ Mara is a peripheral figure this time around as he is appointed to the Seanad, but we do thankfully get the immortal ‘uno Duce, uno voce’ line as Haughey sees off another heave, although disappointingly there is no sign of his infamous goose-step.

The real star of this episode is Gavin O’Connor’s Seán Doherty who really comes into his own as Haughey’s fiercely loyal justice minister.

doherty Gavin O'Connor plays Seán Doherty RTÉ Player RTÉ Player

His unstinting loyalty to ‘The Boss’ feeds into a complete paranoia about Haughey’s opponents that drives the decision to tap the phones of political enemies and journalists. It would ultimately lead to Doherty’s – and eventually Haughey’s – downfall.

An honourable mention too to Gus McDonagh’s portrayal of “the most cunning of them all” — one Bertie Ahern. McDonagh manages to capture the rabbit in headlights look of Haughey’s chief whip as Dermot Morgan once did so brilliantly.

Ahern is frequently seen as being the bearer of bad news as he delivers word of yet another no confidence motion in the Taoiseach.

Episode two is a far more settled affair than the frenetic pace of episode one and the characters seem more comfortable in their roles. The Batman-esque music is still grating but there was enough last night to make us look forward to the third and final episode of this landmark drama.

Read: Mary O’Rourke was ‘a bit troubled’ by Charlie’s depiction of Brian Lenihan

Last week: 724,000 of you tuned in to watch Charlie on RTÉ One last night

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