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Bertie, Biffo and the Bard of Avon

Hailed as a strong and decisive leader on his appointment to the top job, Brian Cowen has managed to confound both his supporters and critics in equal measure. Among the many questions we are left asking after two years of his stewardship, surely the most pertinent is “What was Bertie thinking by positioning his finance minister for Taoiseach?” As always with Bertie, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing. The former Taoiseach is nothing, if not ruthlessly ambitious. By the time he knew his days were numbered, he very quickly set out his path to the big white house in the park and knew that he would have to seal the door shut behind him in Government buildings to ensure that no blame or criticism followed him on his quest for the Presidency. Brian Cowen held many cabinet positions and managed to distinguish himself in none. Seeing the ominous dark clouds on our horizon a lot sooner than we think, why did Bertie choose a successor who quite clearly would not be up to the task ahead.

In Fianna Fail, loyalty above all else is expected, treasured and rewarded and if nothing else Brian Cowen possessed it in bucket loads. If a leadership contest were to take place in the wake of Bertie’s departure, God forbid, a young turk could have risen to the top, a la Obama, who owed nothing to Bertie and while he or she struggled to steer our ship through very dark waters, would be always free to point the finger at Bertie and Biffo et al and say, “Look, I’m really sorry about this mess, but they caused it, I’m only trying to fix it. Give me a hand and we’ll get through this”. That possibility could never be countenanced, not matter how improbable. So quite apart from all the actions and inactions perpetrated on us by the affable Bertie, (Ah Jaysus lads), it is my belief that Biffo’s elevation at his hand, if not the most damaging of them all, was at least the final blow.

So what’s William Shakespeare got to do with all of this? Quite rightly we hold the man in high esteem for his uncanny ability to reveal the human heart in all it’s manifestations and gory detail. Of all of his fine plays, one of his lesser known is “Coriolanus”. It tells the story of a brave and loyal army General and servant of Rome, who because of his heroic exploits on the field of battle, finds himself persauded to run for the Roman Senate. For the first time in his life, he must converse with and seek the support of the common people or plebeian in order to secure his seat and finds it impossible to hide his contempt for them. Going so far as to insult and threaten them, Coriolanus finds himself, through the machinations of some cunning and manipulative politicians, cast out of Rome. The story goes on from there, but for our purposes we can stop here. Coriolanus was revered by his men as a warrior who feared nobody and so they gave of their affection and loyalty, without question. His flaw was that he was true to himself. He held in high esteem those who shed blood for him and Rome and felt nothing short of indifference, even contempt for the soft yet complaining citizens of that same city. And if he is to be admired, it is for his unwillingness to pretend to be someone he was not. Anyone else see the parallel?

So is Brian Cowen a bad man? No, not at all. By all accounts he is affable and witty, kind to animals and children, a strong family man with decent human values. He just found himself at the wrong end of the machinations of the most cunning and ruthless of them all.

What’s this got to do with a blog about film. Not a lot I will admit and I did point out that other subject matter would sneak in every now and then. Except this, I am working on an adaptation of Coriolanus for film. Yes I know, Ralph Fiennes has has just completed his adaptation. While I haven’t seen it yet, I have no doubt it’s a very fine film. The adaptation I have in mind would have a very different take on the subject matter and no, it’s not Biffo the movie.

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