The body and soul behind Corp + Anam

TONIGHT SEES TG4 broadcast the second episode of the gutsy drama series Corp + Anam, written and directed by Darach Mac Con Iomaire and produced by Paddy Hayes’ Magamedia Productions.

Boasting high production values and fine acting, the series centres on TV crime correspondent Cathal MacIarnain, played by Galway actor Diarmuid de Faoite, his uncompromising quest for the truth and the emotional cost which this entails for himself and those around him.

The first series was a prize-winner at the 2011 IFTA Awards and Series II builds on that success with strong, gripping storylines that engage with topical issues such as child abuse, corruption in the legal sector, and conflict over property inheritance. Alongside these journalistic dramas, we also witness the fraught relationship between MacIarnain and his estranged wife, played by Maria Doyle Kennedy, and their children.

Creating Corp + Anam

Over an afternoon coffee, Darach Mac Con Iomaire and Paddy Hayes met with me to chat about Corp + Anam and Darach began by telling how the series first came together.

“I was working in Dublin in a job I didn’t particularly like, around 2007,” he says. “Paddy rang me to tell me about this development scheme that TG4 and Udaras Na Gaeltachta had put together to help small companies making programmes for TG4.

“The scheme funded 10 people to go into these companies and Paddy asked would I like to be development officer with Magamedia, which I said I’d love to do, and we pitched for it and were approved. So TG4, Udaras and Magamedia paid me a salary for a year to write and develop the series.”

“We didn’t do it just out of the goodness of our heart!” Hayes adds. “We needed someone who was talented enough to do that work and Darach’s track record from theatre showed he had a voice and an energy that went beyond what most people would have. It’s no accident Darach came to us from theatre where there is maybe a fresher, less jaded voice and he brought that energy into his development work for Magamedia.”

“It was a great opportunity for me,” Darach recalls. “Unlike being in theatre I had the time to dream up Corp + Anam. It was because of that creative space that was afforded to me that it came about. If only that space was created more regularly for writers you’d get more content coming out. People need time to write. You often see scripts going into production that aren’t worthy because a proper development process hasn’t been instigated.

“The series was a reaction to the way that news has become entertainment; the more scandalous and invasive it is, the better. I wanted to see the world again through the victims’ eyes and re-jig the whole thing by taking stories that people recognise. All the stories are based on real events albeit fictionalised. The programmes show people under pressure and I hope audiences can recognise them as real pressures.”

The trouble with the truth is...

Maria Doyle Kennedy in Corp + Anam

One of the episodes focuses on a child abuse survivor who has been blackmailed over the compensation he received from the State but is afraid to disclose it.

“One of the shocking things about people who went to the Residential Institutes Redress Board is that people who went to them had to sign a gagging order,” Darach reveals. “Those who inflicted the rape or abuse on the child are indemnified. That’s like the State re-abusing the victims. As children they were sworn to secrecy by their abuser and they carried that cross in silence then finally the State sets aside some money for them but in order to get it they have to stay silent.

“Not many people realise this, those who suffered this face three years in prison and a €25,000 fine if they breathe a word of it. As a writer you feel ‘Yeah, we have an onus to tell these stories.’”

One of the striking things about Corp + Anam is the way that MacIarnain’s crusading journalism often creates further problems for the very people he is trying to help.

“The series interrogates his ego, where is the line between him doing it for himself or for the victim,” Darach observes. “To what extent is the journalist getting a kick out of it? We have what I’d nearly call celebrity journalists now who are often crime journalists with the red-tops or our national broadcasters. They report on the latest gangland murder as though it was a Hollywood blockbuster.

“The programme interrogates the ego of the journalist and looks at how conflicted he can become by becoming desensitised to the grind of covering fatalities. With Cathal, what he wants is the truth and he’s like a terrier going for it. His problem is he will trample on anything to get at it. You could even argue he causes more pain by getting the truth. Cathal kicks against the system and interrogates it but by doing so he causes a lot of collateral damage.”

Another recurrent strand in the series is its portrayal of the legal fraternity as a rat’s nest of venality and corruption.

“I spent a lot of time in courtrooms researching this and I was horrified at how they were being run,” Darach declares. “I had this false notion from watching too many procedural legal dramas that courts would be respectful, quiet, and dignified but it’s more akin to a mart.

“People who are vulnerable and stressed, maybe losing their land or their house as we see in one of the episodes, are often put under huge pressure to settle. Seeing the legal system just chew them up and spit them out, you go ‘Wow!’ If you don’t have the money to hire the best barrister or solicitor you’re in trouble, it’s nothing to do with right or wrong.

“There are people who are honourable in the legal system, of course, but like every walk of life there is the other side too and Corp + Anam looks at those people and questions their motivations and morality, or lack thereof, and the effect their callousness has on vulnerable people.”

Paddy Hayes supplies an illustrative anecdote: “A friend of mine was in the High Court for a divorce case and met his barrister for the first time. She snapped at him ‘What are you here for?’ and he said ‘I’m here for justice’ and she replied ‘Well, you’ve come to the wrong place!’”

Made in Galway by Galwegians

Corp + anam scene at courthouse

Hayes readily acknowledges that Corp + Anam is Magamedia’s flagship programme and a third series is already in development.

“I get a lot of unsolicited scripts, and a real test of a good writer is research,” he says. “You can tell immediately if the person has done the spadework on the script. Darach’s script rang true when you read it, he had put in the time at the courts. A lot of Irish television writers are too arrogant or lazy to do that, they think writing is a muse type thing, but it’s all about craft and graft.

“With the world of Corp + Anam we deliberately didn’t go for Connemara, we went for the other side of Galway, we filmed around Oranmore. It was important that Nuacht TV, where Cathal works is a national broadcaster. We didn’t want to be perceived as regional. These are stories that resonate nationally.”

Darach says that what interests him is “drama, not just drama in Irish”.

“We decided very early on that everybody in the programme would speak Irish which would create a credible world for everyone in the series,” he says. “It’s an important part of Corp + Anam for us, it’s Irish language drama we want to make top quality drama and get away from the hang up that people have and get away from the politics of the language.

“The whole world of the series is in Irish and audiences accept that, other dramas have English and Irish mixed but personally I don’t like that because that brings in the politics of the language and for me the stories in Corp + Anam have no room for that.”

Corp + Anam is on TG4 on Thursdays at 9.30pm.

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