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Seamus Heaney’s Five Fables on BBC Two NI

Date Posted: March 11, 2014

Five medieval Scots fables, translated by Seamus Heaney, have been brought into the 21st century as enchanting animated tales for BBC Two Northern Ireland.

Narrated by acclaimed comedian/actor Billy Connolly and with a specially-composed score by internationally renowned pianist Barry Douglas, Five Fables, made by local animation studio Flickerpix, is an ambitious re-telling of stories written 500 years ago by the medieval Scots poet, Robert Henryson.

Beginning on BBC Two Northern Ireland on Thursday, March 13 at 7pm, each of the five programmes in this series contain an introduction by Seamus Heaney, who was very much involved in all aspects of the project from its inception, and includes his final television interview before his death last summer; a fully animated fable, and some documentary elements about how these morality tales made it to the television screen.

In programme one – The Two Mice – viewers will see how Billy worked with Seamus on the animations, forging a strong working relationship and becoming great friends. This first fable centres around two mice who are sisters and looks at the lure of the city which for the urban dwelling mouse seems on the surface to be much better than the rougher country life of her country sister, but as she finds out to her cost, the city is not without its dangers. Viewers will discover that simple, homely living has its benefits.

This animated fable is accompanied by a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary about the voice recordings, which were supervised by Seamus Heaney a few months before he died and viewers will see how Seamus was happy to make changes to his text as the recording took place.

Speaking during filming for the series, Seamus Heaney said: “What I liked about the idea of having Billy Connolly read this version was that I think he’s capable of combining the popular with the rather more elite. He’s highly intelligent and I saw him in a picture movie called Mrs Brown where he acted John Brown a servant to Queen Victoria – wonderful performance full of nuance and it established in my mind as somebody with presence and with possibilities other than the wild man doing a comic act on the stage which is also deeply attractive.”

After meeting Seamus Heaney for the first time in April 2013, Billy Connolly said: “I love him, he’s great. He’s a lot gentler than I expected. For some reason I thought he’d be more forward, slightly more aggressive, but he’s a big gentle dumpling. I think he’s amazing.”

Of his contribution to this project, Barry Douglas said: “I enjoyed this very much. As a child and teenager I wrote reams of music, mostly rubbish. Since then I’ve tried to get a bit more serious – I’ve written cadenzas for Mozart and Beethoven piano concertos, but this is a very major thing for me, a new departure and I’m very excited.”

David Cumming, Executive Producer for Flickerpix, added: “What has made this project so exciting is the bringing together of so many talented people from different disciplines – all at the top of their game – Seamus Heaney’s wonderful translation, Billy Connolly’s rich delivery, Barry Douglas’s beautiful music and Joel Simon and Dean Burke’s stunning images. This has been a joy and a privilege to work on from start to finish.”

The remaining four fables have making of sections including how Belfast-born pianist Barry Douglas composed the score, taking multi-tasking to a new level. In other episodes viewers gain a fascinating insight into how Seamus Heaney went about translating the poems, bringing his own experience of the land and love of nature into his choice of wording and learning about Robert Henryson himself, and discovering how a team of talented illustrators brought the series to life.

Five Fables is a Flickerpix Production for BBC Northern Ireland made with funding from Northern Ireland Screen’s Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.

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