Gruth is Uachdar

Thursday, March 28, 2002 by

The greatest tragedy of my television life in the last few years is discovering this show on the last of its run.

Having ranted, raved and raged like a petulant adolescent at BBC Scotland and its inability to deliver halfway decent drama, it was with an incredulous sense of disbelief that I watched this stunning, beautiful programme. Put simply, this was the most exquisite piece of period drama that I’ve seen in a number of years. How regional programmers and schedulers can throw bucket loads of money at rubbish likeMonarch of the Glen and Rockface yet shunt this gem to the Gaelic strand on BBC2, is utterly beyond me. If this was Italian or French then television reviewers and film critics would heaping and showering praise upon it and making direct comparisons toCinema Paradiso and Il Postino - but as a mere piece of the BBC’s commitment to Gaelic programming, it is almost shamefully hidden away.

Gruth is Uachdar is, certainly, deserving of far better treatment and promotion. There is no element of this show that is not infinitely superior to MonarchRockface or 1000 Acres of Sky. The acting was faultless, the direction quite stunning and the photography verged on perfection. One scene, in which a cargo of oranges are washed up on a white sand beach and discovered by two local women, was easily – by some margin – the most beautiful, haunting and evocative scene I’ve witnessed on British television. Ever. The richness and texture of this scene was matched by the wonderful acting. It was a simple joyous communion between actors, scenery and wordless script. This was a sumptuous pleasure to watch and one that restored your faith in Scottish drama.

Another element of Gruth that elevates it to a higher level is its use of scenery. The temptation to overdose on long, lingering panoramic shots whilst filming in Scotland, as we know, is just too much. The dramas mentioned above tend to use the backdrops far too stiltedly, as if their mere inclusion should arrest the viewer’s eye and demand their attention instantly. Gruthbeautifully avoids this by taking an almost deconstructionist stance and using the natural beauty of the Western Isles as a backdrop to the action and dialogue between the characters. By utilising the stunning, inherent natural beauty of the background thus, the director breathes a wonderful sense of life that bonds the story to the land in a fashion that is sublimely captivating. The interaction between characters, dialogue and land is unique and gives the show an extra dimension that truly enriches it.

The concept of a period drama, especially one set in 1940s Harris, in Gaelic was one that I wrongly prejudged – this was nothing like my perceptions. A simple tale of a young boy’s passage through life, this was a story told with what, at first glance, looked like relative ease but on second viewing was evidently a story that had been treated with great care and thought. The fact that this was in a “foreign” language was neither here nor there. Personally, I’ve always found the lilting, rhythmic resonance of Gaelic perfect for television. It lends itself to drama far better than most languages and the writers almost always seem to have a greater reverence for the construction and poetry of words and the nuts and bolts of language.

There was a delightful degree of quality throughout. The child actors were stunningly natural and they conveyed their roles with a wonderful warmth and innate sense of conviction. The pace of the programme was presciently metronomic; time passed without dilution or concentration but as an absolute. The camerawork augmented this almost beatifically. The closing scenes of the father and son fishing on the rocky foreshore beneath the machair were unbelievably handsome both in frame and pace. As the father told an ancient, island tale and they shared a cigarette, the flitting in and out of the narrator (the boy as man) to the father and son was achingly exquisite. Backed by a quite beautiful score, which seemed to be imbued with shades of Craig Armstrong and hues of the Blue Nile, this was an incredibly amazing drama.

No climbers dramatically falling down a cliff or inbred incomers claiming baronial seats here. No tales of faux ingenues in a strange land or risible clubland sagas that mirror no reality either. Straightforwardly a period drama set in a far off corner of the world where the concept of island life is the one absolute that underpins a way of life, a way of thinking and offers both an escape and a dead end. This is a programme that deserves to be viewed by a wider audience as well as being recommissioned. Quite simply, Gruth is Uachdar is brilliant, breathtaking and beautiful. I feel privileged to have watched it.


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