Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day: El Greco and Goya. Well, not exactly. But The Hanging Gale (Tuesday and Wednesday, March 16 and 17; 8 to 10 p.m.; Bravo), a mini-series from BBC Northern Ireland, so sears the optic nerve with icons and dissonance, ultramarine and aquatint, phantom elongation and deep-space distortion, agonies in gardens and martyrdoms of saints, that it seems Spanish instead of Celtic. What we are living in is the Great Famine of the 1840s, but, as seen through the madhouse eye of director Diarmuid Lawrence, it looks medieval, Inquisitional, revolutionary, and Napoleonic, as if El Greco’s St. Sebastian and Goya’s Execution of the Defenders of Madrid had been commissioned for the Book of Kells.
See the great estates of absentee English landlords patrolled by land agents like Michael Kitchen. See a peasantry so sunk in servitude that the McGann brothers – Joe, Mark, Paul, and Stephen are the Barrymores of Irish acting – huddle in thatched hovels with their own pigs. See a fungus arrive, by British breezes, to blacken the potato crops. See taxes, foreclosures, evictions, and refugees. Let them eat peat. See white English treat white Irish as the empire is accustomed to treating other colors in China, India, Africa, and the Caribbean. A million died. More than another million emigrated, some steerage paid for by the landlords themselves, for whom a one-way ticket was cheaper than maintaining poorhouses. See, standing equally proud, the treadmill, the gallows, and the Union Jack.
Dreamed up by Stephen and Joe McGann, written down by Allan Cubitt, The Hanging Gale tells of farmers, teachers, and priests in Donegal, and of the good liberal they determine to assassinate after his job has so coarsened him that he is no longer to be distinguished from an occupying army. Typically, there is more politics than sex, and Fiona Victory and Tina Kellegher suffer from both. Just as typically, the erstwhile liberal is permitted to be more complicated than the schoolteacher Robespierre. But these fiddles conspire at grand opera and Spanish curse.