herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

Dull tale of two Davids and one body

Albert's Memorial (UTV SUNDAY)
Mattie (RTE1, SUNDAY)
9/11: State of Emergency (C4, SATURDAY)

DAVID Jason is British TV's equivalent of a Hollywood A-lister. It doesn't seem to matter that he's over-exposed, or that his performances can often be mawkish and hammy -- Jason's name is enough to earn even the flimsiest, corniest of projects the green light.

His involvement in Albert's Memorial -- a queasy, feature-length mixture of black comedy, knockabout farce, gross sentimentality and an unfortunate burst of the supernatural -- can be the only possible reason it got made.

Jason plays taxi driver Harry and the marvellous David Warner (towering over his diminutive co-star in both inches and charisma) is his laconic friend Frank.

They're Second World War veterans who are summoned to the deathbed of another friend, Albert (Michael Jayston), who has an unusual last request.

Albert wants the two of them to steal his body, take it to Germany and bury it in the field where they'd spent the dying days of the war together.

As the pair embark on an increasingly implausible drive across Europe with Albert's coffin strapped to the roof of Harry's black cab, it gradually emerges that the three men shared a guilty secret: they failed to prevent a young German refugee girl they'd befriended from being shot by Russian soldiers during the advance on Berlin.

Along the way, they pick up a pretty young hitch-hiker called Vicki (Judith Hoersch), who happens to be German and seems to know an awful lot about them.

At this point, it was clear there was a twist coming, but it was one so silly and childish that it left you shaking your head in disbelief.

It turned out -- in case you hadn't worked it out -- that Vicki was the ghost of the young German girl, come to guide Harry and Frank through their journey, and to finally relieve them of the burden of their guilt.

The only thing that saved Albert's Memorial from complete mediocrity was the ever-classy and understated Warner, who effortlessly upstaged Jason (looking uncannily like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses) every step of the way.

It was this David and not the other one whose name should have been above the title.

If Irish television has an equivalent of David Jason, it's Pat Shortt, who's a guaranteed audience magnet for RTE.

After the success (in viewing figures, anyway) of Killinaskully, Shortt could probably make anything he wants and RTE would underwrite it.

As it is, he's made Mattie, a gentle, six-part comedy about a naïve, small-town detective transferred to the big city.

I wasn't around for last week's first episode, but I did catch the pilot that went out at Christmas.

Mattie is less broad and more rooted in reality than Killinaskully -- although there are still some over-the-top elements.

There are some good jokes too, though, and while not all of it gels, it suggests the talented Shortt -- who's pursuing more challenging work beyond television -- is moving in a welcome new direction.

Of all the documentaries shown to mark the ninth anniversary the attack on the Twin Towers, the standout was 9/11: State of Emergency.

Like other 9/11 films, it relied heavily on the testimony of the heroes and survivors of that day, as well as some well-done reconstructions. What it had that others lack, however, were contributions from weighty figures in the Bush administration, including Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice.

While Rumsfeld was as slippery and evasive as ever, Rice -- robotic and icy in office -- was more forthcoming when talking about how "the sophisticated command and control systems" supposedly in place for just such an event failed.

"People instead did whatever they could to communicate messages. Frankly, we had to make it up."

There's a lot more to be unearthed about the high-level ineptitude surrounding 9/11, but this was a good start.

STACEY'S STARS

Albert's Memorial **

Mattie **

9/11: State of Emergency ****

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