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'Sometimes being true to history you get as much flack': Historical drama Resistance's creator on annoying Twitter

The new RTÉ One flagship drama looks at Bloody Sunday in 1920. It’s a follow up to Rebellion, which was aired in 2016.

Source: RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA/YouTube

“I’M JUST GOING to turn off my phone and turn off Twitter when it’s on.” 

This evening, Colin Teevan will see his latest RTÉ historical drama hitting the small screen. Resistance, the follow-up to its 1916 drama Rebellion, brings us the same characters as it takes on the events around Bloody Sunday in 1920.

And with that will come the inevitable online dissection of his work.

With a plethora of Irish actors, including Brian Gleeson, Aoife Duffin and Simone Kirby, on board, it’s a flagship show for RTÉ One. 

In focusing on the war between the IRA and British forces during the War of Independence, the five-part series will depict “a world of shadows and echoes, double-agents and unreliable narrators at a time of high tension, fear and anxiety”. 

With the original Rebellion series attracting 619,000 viewers for its first episode in January, hopes are high that Resistance will follow suit. And in the era of social media, like with Rebellion there will be much dissection of the show on Twitter as and after it airs.

When TheJournal.ie speaks to London-based Colin Teevan – who as well as being a screenwriter is a playwright – before the launch, he’s feeling quite balanced about the whole thing. Reflecting back on the first season, he says: “I think there was a lot of pressure and expectation on Rebellion because of the centenary celebrations.”

This time around, things are a little different, given that as Teevan points out: Ireland likes to commemorate the Rising but doesn’t quite commemorate the War of Independence or the Civil War. In this writer’s mind, “they are all part of the same revolutionary wave”.

But he won’t be spending time on social media to see how his latest series is received. By the time it has aired, his work is done. “The response to Rebellion was very, very good and worldwide has been very, very positive… But social media just allows the haters to hate,” says Teevan.

?????????????????? Colin Teevan Source: Patrick Redmond

Drama vs fact

The balance between historical fact and dramatic licence is one that has to be finely managed with a show like Resistance. While it’s not a historical documentary, there has to be drama in it. But forsake historical accuracy for drama and people will notice. 

Any possible anachronisms or questionable moments were certainly noticed in the case of Rebellion, something Teevan has not forgotten. “One has to be fair. The difficulty certainly in the furore that seemed to surround every episode of Rebellion is that everybody thinks their view of history is correct,” he says.

Here on this site, we looked at people’s questions around whether or not a police officer was shot outside Dublin Castle, as depicted in Rebellion. Spoiler: He was, just a bit quicker than the episode suggested. The national anthem was sung in English, as Rebellion depicted, even though many were annoyed at just the thought of it.

Taking some license in dramatic depictions of Irish history isn’t new. In Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins, an armoured car is driven into Croke park, in an incident that didn’t actually happen in real life. 

Teevan says that it is those who deny historical accuracy “are promoters of fake news or fake history”. 

The irony is that sometimes being true to history you get just as much flack.

He adds: “There is a big pressure but I would endeavour, as with Charlie [his series about Charlie Haughey], I would endeavour to be as accurate as possible. On the other hand there is always the truth that drama is real life with the boring bits taken out. You can’t do it in absolute. The kind of tiny details a historian would [include], but I think wherever possible you should be informed by the facts and often enriched by the facts.”

Personal stories

001131cf-800 Brian Gleeson in Resistance.

While some of the figures in Resistance, like Michael Collins, feature prominently in the series, some other characters are a melange of a few people. Teevan says he hopes that the series will touch on well-known aspects of what happened in 1920, but introduce “an unexpected perspective” to the historical framework.

Brian Gleeson’s character is based on a few people, while there are also characters based on particular historical women. While the main story involves the IRA, there are some less well-known subplots from the archives which Teevan stumbled across in the archives during his research. 

It’s those small personal stories that Teevan is particularly fascinated with – how to tell the greater story through individual experiences. 

“I often find with drama it’s not the big things that provide inspiration, it’s when you find a little detail. This is where drama lies – in the details. Not in the big gun battles but in the little asides of history,” says Teevan.

The personal details, it’s always the personal beause drama is about individual characters. Leave it to the documentaries to tell the overall story.

For example, he discovered details of how Michael Collins “went about hiding the new State’s finances”. When it was discovered that a forensic accountant was brought in, the man was “taken off a tram in Ballsbridge and shot on the street”.

“[Michael Collins] managed to create and run a whole underground organisation and I think that is even more interesting than the shooting of people,” adds Teevan.

He describes 1920 as having a “bizarre situation with two governments, both claiming to run the country”. He describes a state of “almost anarchy” at the time. 

“I think we’re sort of facing it now in Britain,” he says. “It’s interesting [to see a] State tearing itself apart trying to extract itself from the union.”

He started writing the series before the Brexit vote, but elements of the vote and of recent events worldwide clearly found their way in.

It’s the patterns that inspire him. “The pattern of nearly every revolution is the same – it starts with an optimistic, perhaps even naive, uprising by the people and it swiftly descends into chaos,” he explains. “And out of the chaos the right wing tend to take over the revolutionary organisations. Like you saw it in Iran, saw it in Russia, essentially a new oppressive regime as a result of revolution.”

001131ce-614

But what about Ireland? “I wanted to explore that in the Irish context. I think it’s a fascinating thing. And hopefully we get to make a third series which would explore the Civil War, and chart the rise in influence of the church.” 

“That’s where I think Jimmy is a fascinating character – where he starts season one as an optimistic socialist, I will be interested to see where people think of where he finishes. I would have plans for him in season three if we get that far. You can see someone change over time.”

‘Women were pushed out of public life’

When reading a book about this period of Irish history, often you’re left asking yourself “where are the women?”. That’s something Teevan also found himself asking, and was inspired to ensure his series included plenty of female characters.

“Women were pushed out of public life over this period,” he says. “Concomitant with the rise of the church. There was a whole generation of very well educated women prior to the first World War in Ireland and even attendance at university from the Rising onwards greatly diminishes, and then the church by 1925 saying the woman’s place is in the home.

And I think that’s really interesting, which is one reason why I’ve had so many female leads in the two series. Because looking at their journeys and how gradually their opportunities were blocked off from them I think is kind of fascinating. It’s very much coming from ‘here are the women?’.

He was inspired by women like a cousin of Michael Collins, who worked as his secretary in Dublin Castle. “She is actually the one living that quite terrifying spy life, not Michael Collins and his men,” says Teevan. He asked himself was it possible to “shift the camera of history to look at those people rather than the big names who went on to run everything”.

And though he won’t be watching the response, he does add: 

“I hope a vast majority of people not sitting there saying ‘that’s wrong, that didn’t happen’.” As with much of history, truth is often stranger than fiction. 

Resistance was made for RTÉ by Zodiak Media Ireland, a subsidiary of French television giant Banijay Group. Resistance episode one airs tonight, 6 January, on RTÉ One at 9.30pm.

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