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Rebel Heart

Rebel Heart


Robert Cooper, producer of Rebel Heart and head of drama for BBC Northern Ireland, conceived the idea seven years ago of a drama set in the violent aftermath of the rising: "It's one of the most significant and dramatic points of recent Irish history. It's packed with incident and overlaid with myth. It's puzzling, full of contradictions and still capable of arousing a very strong response. It's always seemed to me to be natural material for TV drama. This is a romance and an adventure, but it has a very clear vision of the historical and political context."

Cooper commissioned writer Ronan Bennett (Love Lies Bleeding; Face; A Further Gesture) to find a fictional framework for the story. "With the creation of the character Ernie Coyne, the piece came alive. Along the way you meet real historical figures - Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Eamon de Valera but they're almost incidental. Ernie allows us to move between factions, he illuminates different sides of the conflict."

The young man from a middle-class Dublin background is drawn to the idealism of nationalism. "He's constantly faced with difficult decisions," says Bennett. "His family wants him to be respectable, but he wants to fight for his beliefs. He's a promising student, but he wants excitement in his life. As the story goes on, his choices get harder and more serious: whether to fight, whether to kill."

To bring the story to vivid life on screen, Cooper approached Malcolm Craddock as producer. "I knew from his work on Sharpe that he was a master of action period drama, and that's what we wanted for Rebel Heart-something very intense and real, not a costume parade." Craddock, who specialised in Irish history at Cambridge had been waiting for just such an opportunity to come along. "This is a story about people who were prepared to die for their beliefs. We're not saying that this is always a positive thing - in fact we show the terrible price you pay for your beliefs, if you're willing to follow them through. We certainly don't glorify violence. Of course there's a romantic element to the story - these were stirring times of rebellion and passion - but we haven't romanticised. It has been very exciting working with Robert Cooper and Ronan Bennett on the creative development of Rebel Heart."

Robert Cooper adds: "Ronan has created compelling characters who believe passionately in very different things. At the start of the drama they come together as fighters or lovers, ignoring what divides them. In the end, their divisions - especially between belief in pragmatic compromise and belief in fighting on for your ideals - leads to personal and political tragedy. So whilst Rebel Heart is a story told entirely from an Irish perspective, it is visualised on a wide canvas with lots of different viewpoints - a canvas on which the characters play out a universal, moral dilemma."

Ronan Bennett insists that his intention in Rebel Heart was not to comment on the recent troubles. "This is not a proselytising piece. I'm not trying to educate or persuade anyone. If it clarifies issues or provokes discussion of Irish history, that's up to individuals; all I cared about was writing a moving story. But, of course, it's written from a modern viewpoint, by a man who grew up in Northern Ireland during the troubles.

"I'm dealing with real events that still colour people's attitudes to the northern state. Irish history has repeated itself - events of the 1960s and 1970s were very similar to the period covered in Rebel Heart, and you can't avoid making the links. But I'm not banging the drum for either side. If anything, there's just a terrible, bitter sense of irony."

Also starring in Rebel Heart are Bill Paterson as James Connolly, Liam Cunningham and Daragh O'Malley as republican fighters Michael Malone and James Grace. Michael Collins is played by Brendan Coyle and Inspector Nelson by Lorcan Cranitch.

The series, which was filmed on location in and around Dublin is directed by John Strickland (Clocking Off, Undercover Heart, Plotlands, Primes Suspect II). Producers are Malcolm Craddock, head of Picture Palace Productions (Sharpe, A Life For A Life and Extremely Dangerous) and Robert Cooper, Head Of Drama, BBC Northern Ireland (Truly Madly Deeply, Divorcing Jack and Amongst Women).

The title music for Rebel Heart was especially written and performed by The Corrs and features on their best selling album In Blue.

The four-hour serial is a Picture Palace Production for BBC Northern Ireland and was jointly developed creatively by BBC Northern Ireland and Picture Palace.


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