On the 100th anniversary of the Easter uprising in Ireland, Sundance TV debuts the miniseries “Rebellion,” which may only be of interest to students of Irish history. Even those viewers of this period piece should be prepared to have their patience tested.
“Rebellion,” which is set in 1916 in Dublin, only fitfully supplies a sense of excitement and momentum, and it regularly fails to provide meaningful context for the actions of Irish patriots hoping to free the nation from British rule during World War 1. “Rebellion” clearly aims to create a wide array of viewpoints on this tense period in Irish history, but manages to sabotage itself regularly with questionable pacing and an ungainly bunch of under-developed characters.
There is a slightly heavier focus on a few characters like Elizabeth Butler (Charlie Murphy), a rich young woman who sympathizes with the rebels, and Jimmy Mahon (Brian Gleeson), a socialist leader in the Irish Citizens Army. But for the most part, more or less equal screen time is given to a dozen or so characters, none of whom ever acquires a modicum of compelling depth or complexity. Two of the few well-known and experienced actors in the cast, Michelle Fairley and Ian McElhinney of “Game of Thrones,” are mostly wasted as Butler’s disapproving parents.
Events are generally muddled as well; not much clarity is supplied regarding the histories and beliefs of various factions on the rebel side, nor is it tremendously clear who is giving (and rescinding) orders at certain points. The pace picks up in the second episode, when the Easter uprising actually begins, but time and again, “Rebellion” makes baffling editing decisions. It frequently kills its patchy momentum by cutting away from scenes of desperate, poignant fighting to dreary conversations among dull characters who feel like imports from a decidedly average period piece.
Among the miniseries’ accomplishments is a clear-eyed assessment at the misogynist attitudes that informed treatment of many Irish women at the barricades, and a number of “Rebellion’s” storylines are dominated by a varied assortment of women, from an Irish-speaking follower of Patrick Pearse to a wistful young secretary who’s having an affair with a powerful English bureaucrat. He’s among the British characters who are allowed to be more than mere caricatures, but like many of “Rebellion’s” characters, his backstory and dilemmas are unremarkable and predictable.
History does come alive here and there in this three-part miniseries. The takeover of the Dublin Post Office and the pitched battle at Dublin Castle — the headquarters of the U.K. government in Ireland — were filmed on location, and those visuals do provide the miniseries with a few memorable jolts. Costumer Allison Byrne does a fine job with the vintage clothes, and the sets are beautifully detailed throughout.
Though the cast is generally young and not as experienced as Fairley, they give their all to the fitfully engaging material, especially Murphy, Gleeson and Ruth Bradley as front-line fighter Frances O’Flaherty.