Ireland, 1916. Roger McBride (Patrick Troughton) and two friends are scanning the coastline, anxiously waiting for the arrival of a German submarine. The submarine will be carrying Sir Roger Casement (Andrew Kier) who has spent the last few years in Germany, gathering support for an armed Irish rebellion against the English.
A shipload of guns is due to arrive shortly. Without it, the planned uprising on Easter Monday is doomed to failure. But whilst Sir Roger arrives, the guns don’t. Despite the entreaties of his wife Doreen (Billie Whitelaw), McBride seems content to lead his men into battle anyway, where they’ll face certain slaughter. But then he seems to have a change of heart ….
Whilst He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday features some fine actors (including Andrew Kier and T.P. McKenna) the bulk of the story revolves around Patrick Troughton and Billie Whitelaw. Although Troughton’s Irish accent does come and go a little, this is a small price to pay for his intense, fanatical performance. Make no mistake, McBride is a fanatic – something which is made clear very early on. When Doreen asks what they’ll do if the guns don’t arrive, McBride retorts that “we’ll make our rebellion with bricks and clubs and hobnail boots and the fearless Irish hearts that are beating inside of us.”
If Troughton is his usual excellent self, then he’s matched every step of the way by Billie Whitelaw. Whitelaw, who has the only female speaking role, essays a stunning performance as Doreen. She loves her husband, but he only has thoughts for a free Ireland. Angrily she tells him that “you’re a man of brave courage, John McBride. Oh, if only you had the courage to take the wife who loves you in your two arms and share your fear with her.” This is a scene that crackles with intensity, helped by the conflicting emotions that play across Troughton’s face.
Robert Monteith (Maurice Good) was one of the men who has travelled to Ireland with Sir Roger Casement. With Casement now captured by the British and no guns, he can forsee a massacre if the rising goes ahead. McBride could stop it – but only he knows the codeword that will stand everybody down. Despite physical force, Monteith is unable to make him talk. But Doreen is able to win him round and in a tender scene – again it’s another excellent two-hander for Troughton and Whitelaw – he agrees to pass on the code.
After Monteith delivers the message he discovers that McBride has tricked him. The codeword he passed on was “go” not “stop”. Later, McBride explains to Doreen and his friends. “When this rising’s over they’ll be thousands of us dead in the streets and they’ll be arrests and trials and hangings and we’ll have failed. This time we’ll have failed. But if we make a start this time, one day we’ll succeed. And our children and grandchildren will live in a free Ireland. But by all that’s good and all that’s holy, unless we make that start this time we’ll never succeed.”
Armed with only a pitchfork he walks forward into a hail of bullets from a police machine-gun. His speech seemed to have inspired the other men, as they too are also cut down – leaving a distraught Doreen alone, surrounded by dead bodies. It’s a stirring ending, but it does leave a few questions unanswered, most especially why did the police open fire? Rather than make martyrs of the men, they simply could have arrested them.
He Rises on Sunday and We on Monday doesn’t make any attempt to present both sides of the story. Whilst it’s laudable in one way that the English aren’t depicted as inhuman monsters, this is because they hardly feature at all. Alvin Sapinsley’s script (especially McBride’s final speech) makes it quite clear which side he supports. For most of the story McBride seems to be a man alone – the others follow him, but they don’t seem to share his burning desire. It’s only when they see him shot down in a futile gesture that they too become totally committed and also perish. Even with the shocked reaction of Doreen, Sapinsley strongly implies that it’s a glorious thing to die for a cause you believe in.
It may be on the polemical side, but the performances of Troughton and Whitelaw make this an episode worth watching.