RTE’s Rebellion has come in for a bit of a kicking in recent weeks.
There are a few things about it that are worthy of praise, not least the performances of some of the cast. Brian Gleeson has delivered a striking performance as a Citizen Army Volunteer in my view, proving that the Gleeson family can do no wrong.
Yet actors can only work with what they’re given. The dialogue is truly appalling, and while the first cringe of the series came with the line “I’d rather be fucked by an Englishman than brainwashed by an Irishman”, there’s been plenty since. The differences between the Citizen Army and the Volunteers are grossly exaggerated. We’re given one Bolshie militia and another more akin to the Legion of Mary. The depiction of P.H Pearse is truly shameful, reducing a complex character to a revisionist cliche. I understand that Rebellion is a drama and not a documentary, but even allowing for that, there is a little too much reshaping of the past here for my liking. Perhaps there is too much Praying Pearse and not enough North King Street Massacre.
Some have attacked the drama over minute details, and the small pieces of modern Dublin that have found their way in front of the camera from time to time. This is totally unavoidable in any large scale drama filmed in the midst of a modern capital city, and while yellow lines creeping into shot or streetsigns have caught the eye of many, one thing I noticed has largely gone unnoticed. They did a fine job in creating a CGI model of the Nelson Pillar for O’Connell Street, right down to the gates and the entrance doorway of the monument. How then did they manage to put the wrong statue on top?
The Nelson in Rebellion may be more familiar to Londoners than Dubliners. Sporting a fine hat and striking the same pose, it’s the Trafalgar Square statue outside the GPO:
Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square was constructed between 1840 and 1843, meaning there were more than three decades between the construction of the Dublin monument and it. The Nelson Pillar in Dublin was erected between 1808 and 1809, the work of Francis Johnston, the celebrated Dublin-based architect. Johnston was also responsible for the General Post Office, constructed between 1814 and 1818. Little could he know at the time that he would ultimately be responsible for giving Dublin not only a symbol of political loyalism, but a building that would become synonymous with political separatism. The statue of Nelson was the work of Cork-born sculptor Thomas Kirk. When it was placed on top of the Doric column, one Irish magazine lamented the fact that “the statue of Nelson records the glory of a mistress and the transformation of our senate into a discount office.”
London’s Nelson could perhaps boast of being the better looking of the two Admirals! While the Nelson Pillar was destroyed on 8 March 1966, there were exciting times ahead for the head of the celebrated Admiral. Liberated from a Dublin Corporation lockup by students of the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), it spent a number of months traveling both Ireland and the UK before it was returned to Dublin. Today it is on display in the Reading Room of the Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street.