Saturday 20 January 2018

The story behind Bob's finest hour

When Harvey met Bob (RTE1)

DID the 1985 Live Aid concert really come to fruition in the way depicted in When Harvey Met Bob? Well, yes. And no. Maybe. Who knows?

The film opened with the standard warning that some of the dialogue and situations we were about to see had been embellished or invented for dramatic purposes, and then cheekily added: "and sometimes even slightly exaggerated . . . but all in a good cause, of course!"

To be honest, it doesn't strictly matter what's 100pc factual and what has a slightly lower truth content, because writer Joe Dunlop and director Nick Renton delivered a fast, funny, moving and exciting drama that truly captured the spirit of the events, as well as those of the two singular men behind them.

Everything here pivoted on the performances. Get Bob Geldof wrong and the whole structure collapses. Mercifully, Domhnall Gleeson, his flaming red hair dyed dark into an unruly riot, got him wonderfully right.

His wiry, gangling frame apart, Gleeson doesn't look anything like Geldof, but he brilliantly nailed the Geldof trademarks: the lazy gait, the sloping shoulders, the darting head and, of course, the unmistakeable cadences of his voice. This was a proper performance -- an interpretation, not an impersonation.

Gleeson was matched, inch for inch, by that superb actor Ian Hart as Harvey Goldsmith, the pugnacious promoter with the heart of platinum he roped into sharing his grand, crazy idea to mount a mammoth fundraising gig split between England and America.

From the outset, the film depicted Geldof as a vulnerable, even desperate, man who'll do anything necessary to bring Live Aid to life. He's seen operating on a wing without a prayer as he bullies, cajoles and guilt-trips the world's biggest rock stars into taking part.

He's not beyond flattering egos in order to get what he wants. At one point we see him in bed, on the phone to Queen's Freddie Mercury, who's in Australia and expressing reluctance to get involved. "Freddie, it's the world!" he tells him. "If anybody was ever born to do the world, it was you!"

He's not above lying, either -- to the media, to the artists' agents, to television companies reluctant to cough up what he's demanding for the global television rights, even to Goldsmith himself -- in order to get what he wants.

As a look at the mechanics that went into making Live Aid happen, this was gripping, vivid and fascinating, and the sense of time and place evocatively sketched in, despite an obviously limited budget.

Several iconic moments were deftly recreated, including the one during the Live Aid broadcast when, upon being told there wasn't enough money being pledged, an exhausted Geldof told viewers to "f**k the post office" and just get out their credit cards and ring.

It would have been easy, of course, to present Geldof as the selfless "Saint Bob" the tabloids labelled him. Instead, Dunlop's excellent script gave us the flipside of the man: the Geldof whose blazing idealism was often ruptured by fear and self-doubt.

Wisely, the film resisted the temptation to give us a parade of cameos by actors playing rock stars, preferring instead to stick to a backstage view of things.

The one big name that did feature was Paul McCartney, played by Paul Rhys. The film suggested that Geldof bagging McCartney -- who was nervous about performing live for the first time in six years -- was the deal-clincher between Live Aid and the all-important TV networks.

Summoned to McCartney's country estate, Geldof tells him: "Even the Beatles never saved a life just by saying yes."

"You didn't think I asked you down here to say no, did you?" responds a smiling McCartney, whose closing rendition of 'Let It Be' (temporarily stymied by a malfunctioning microphone) brought Live Aid to a rapturous close.

This was a lovely, generous film that recalled a lovely, generous event in history, musical and human.


When Harvey met Bob ****

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