Set in 2016 prior to the centennial of the Easter Rising at Northern Ireland's only integrated teacher training college. A struggle develops between the principal and the security director who values security more than education.

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(by) (as J. Graham Reid)
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Cast

Episode complete credited cast:
Denys Hawthorne ...
Cyril Brown
...
Lennie North
...
Connor Mullan
Eileen Pollock ...
Clare Williams
Lise Ann McLaughlin ...
June Crawford (as Lise-Ann McLaughlin)
...
John Bingham
Susie Kelly ...
Colette Brogan
...
Kevin Murphy
...
Student
Walter McMonagle ...
Control Voice (voice)
Paula Hamilton ...
Control Voice (voice)
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Set in 2016 prior to the centennial of the Easter Rising at Northern Ireland's only integrated teacher training college. A struggle develops between the principal and the security director who values security more than education.

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Drama | Sci-Fi

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18 May 1982 (UK)  »

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The New Communities College of Education was established in 2011. See more »

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An excellent, bleak and depressing depiction of the evils of sectarianism
28 December 2015 | by (Ireland) – See all my reviews

Set in March 2016, this is an excellent, bleak and depressing depiction of the evils of sectarianism. The episode takes place in the New Communities College of Education in Belfast, the first integrated teacher training college in Northern Ireland, in the days leading up to the centenary of the Easter Rising. The episode's first-rate script by J. Graham Reid very effectively demonstrated that violence begets violence at a time when the situation in Northern Ireland was very unstable. It is equally damning of both Republicans and Unionists who seek to continue the cycle of violence. The script is deliberately vague about the status of the Northern Irish government in 2016 so it is unclear if North is a representative member of the security force. However, it is hinted that the relevant security force is essentially a secret police, meaning that the government is likely an oppressive one.

The episode stars Denys Hawthrone in a wonderful performance as Dr. Cyril Brown, the founder of the training college who believes very strongly in the principle of integration. He views the college as his life's work and, after a period of serious illness, his determination to see that it survives his impending retirement is substantially increased. Brown initially comes across as a good and decent man who abhors violence as his own father was murdered by the IRA during the 1970s. He believes that Catholics and Protestants can live together in peace and as complete equals in Northern Irish society. As such, he is disgusted by the heavy-handed tactics of the college's new Director of Security Lennie North, played extremely well by Derrick O'Connor.

North is openly anti-Catholic and sees subversion everywhere. North is deeply suspicious of the Catholic teacher Connor Mullan, a former militant student activist whose zeal has been reawakened in response to North's creation of an atmosphere of distrust and repression. He is played by a miscast Bill Nighy in an atypically bad performance. Mullan wants to organise a protest march to mark the centenary of the Rising. He claims that it is about asserting his right to protest but it is merely an attempt to provoke the police into attacking the marchers, something which Brown justifiably fears will restart the Troubles. In spite of his supposed attempts to prevent the march from taking place, this is exactly what North wants as he sees it as the perfect excuse to grind the Catholics into the ground once and for all.

Although he is unaware of North's intentions, Brown condemns both men for trying to resurrect the old tensions. However, it soon becomes clear that he is deeply hypocritical as, in spite of his stated aversion to violence, he instructs a student to plant a bomb in North's office. He did not intend to kill him, only to scare him in the hope that he would resign his position and life in the college would return to normal. To that end, he called North away at the time that the bomb was to go off but two students were killed in the explosion. The following week, Brown justifies his actions to his assistant Clare Williams, played very well by Eileen Pollock, on the basis that he wanted to keep the college alive. After handing him her letter of resignation, she retorts that his actions destroyed it. This is a brilliant plot development that I did not foresee as I took Brown at face value. It reminds us that it is easy to be radicalised and people who may seem thoughtful and reasonable on the surface can use their supposedly good intentions to justify acts of terrorism and murder. In some ways, they are the most dangerous as it is not the villains who wear black hats and twirl their moustaches that are always the greatest threat.

The episode has a strong supporting cast such as Gerard McSorley as John Bingham (a seemingly outspoken Protestant Republican who turns out to be North's spy), Colm Meaney as the largely apolitical Kevin Murphy who can see both sides of the argument and Lise Ann McLaughlin as June Crawford, who attracts the interest of both Mullan and North. It is also notable for featuring the first credited on screen appearance of the 21-year-old Kenneth Branagh as a militant Republican student. Needless to say, he was not the only member of the cast who moved up in the acting world in later years.

Overall, this is a powerful statement on the necessity of tolerance and acceptance in divided societies which deserves to be considerably better known than it is. In any event, I am glad that life in Northern Ireland in the early 21st Century is not as bleak as Reid imagined it.


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