Seamus Heaney's Five Fables

BBC Two Northern Ireland to screen series of animated translations voiced by Billy Connolly

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 comedian/actor Billy Connolly and with a specially-composed score by internationally renowned pianist Barry Douglas, Five Fables – which was made by Holywood 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 weekly programmes in this series contain an introduction by Seamus Heaney, who was very much involved in all aspects of the project from its inception. This series includes the late Nobel Prize-winning poet's final television interview before his death last summer.

 

Programme one, The Two Mice, 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. 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 Heaney a few months before he died on August 30, 2013. Viewers will see how Heaney and Connolly worked closely together, and how the acclaimed writer was happy to make changes to his text as the recording took place.

Speaking during filming for the series, 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.

'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 Heaney for the first time in April 2013, 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.'

The remaining four fables each 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 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.

Of his contribution to this project, Barry Douglas added: '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.'

Five Fables is a Flickerpix Production for BBC Northern Ireland with support from the Northern Ireland Screen Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.