1 9 8 0 (Ireland)
7 x 50 minute episodes
Strumpet City was a period piece set in 1913 in Dublin.
It had the predictable ingredients of poverty, ignorance and frustration. It had the usual quota of revolutionaries, sycophants and downtrodden working folk. It had the standard collection of clerics too: the ageing drunk, the time-server, and the young snotty-nosed thickhead.
It was manufactured with more than average care, but even so was not particularly outstanding in terms of production values. The clothes were obviously costumes from a wardrobe department, and the lighting was merely illumination necessary to expose the film.
The central story revolved around Mary (Angela Harding), a young domestic who comes to work for the wealthy, oblivious Bradshaws (Edward Byrne and Daphne Carroll). Once Mary meets handsome, kind foundry worker “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (Bryan Murray), she immediately falls in love, and the couple make plans to save enough money to eventually marry.
Mary, distressed at the way the Bradshaws shuttle off their devoted housekeeper Miss Gilchrist (Mairin D. O’Sullivan) to the poor house when she can no longer work, decides to leave the insensitive Bradshaw household and marry Fitz.
Unfortunately, historic events conspire to make the young couple’s life one of continued want and anxiety.
Fitz’s involvement with the union frequently keeps him out of work, when he and his fellow workers go out on strikes. And once he works his way up to being foreman of the foundry, he’s suddenly caught between the obligations of his new job (and to his employers), and with his union brothers who expect him to walk out with him.
The other main story involved the difficult path of Father O’Connor (Frank Grimes), a snobbish Catholic priest who, in a misguided attempt to ease his conscience, leaves his wealthy parish to work among Dublin’s most wretched tenement houses.
Utterly unsuited to work among the poor (for whom he has a barely concealed disgust), Father O’Connor is greeted with open scorn by his superior, Father Giffley (Cyril Cusack), a troubled alcoholic who has spent too much time among the poor.
Father O’Connor’s friend, Protestant businessman Mr Yearling (Denys Hawthorne), frequently challenges O’Connor on his beliefs and where his sympathies lie – which is almost always with the factory owners and with the well-to-do.
Some attempt was made to recreate time and place, but a slum is a slum anywhere, anytime. So is a church and presbytery. The virtue of the settings was that they were acceptably dirty and poverty-stricken without overstatement.
There was a deal of violence throughout, none of it very convincing. As stage fights go, most of the physical stuff in Strumpet City was crude and amateurish. But the violence arose from believable causes and ended with someone getting hurt.
Fine character actors like Cyril Cusack showed what can be done with the part of a stereotype priest.
Mairin D. O’Sullivan