Belfast Telegraph

Why we should all just admit Game of Thrones is Northern Ireland's crowning achievement

By Damian Smyth

Let's face it. It would have been baffling had headlines blared that Kit Harington was carpeted by the producers of Game of Thrones for declaring on a coast-to-coast TV chatshow in the US that the global phenomenon was "the most depressing TV show in history".

No one would believe that he was genuinely dissing the show in which he has starred for three years as Jon Snow and most would accuse the producers of over-sensitivity or, more likely, suspect them of fabricating a crisis to get the already wildly-successful show further publicity.

But when it happens that he also made equally casual remarks about Belfast, one of the show's main bases of operations, it's time for dudgeon to be high, outrage to be absolute and for gruntlement, in fact, to be well and truly dissed.

His remarks - that the Tourist Board made virtues of both the Europa Hotel as the most bombed in Europe and of the Titanic which sank on its maiden voyage - were fairly routine comments which the actor will have heard most likely not from giggling US colleagues on the show, poking fun at the rustic hillbillies of Belfast, but from the many local crew members and extras who've benefited from the sustained engagement of this massive enterprise with the city and Northern Ireland's unique locations.

For the fact is, if there is disdain for Belfast and its ambitions as a modern city, it will be found more quickly among some natives than among visiting professionals who have chosen the place for the availability of exceptional creative and artistic skills, the flexibility of the required workforce and the tireless commitment of bearded extras, as much as for the loveliness of Inch Abbey.

If Harington's comments reveal anything, it's that certain old-fashioned ideas about Belfast still hold some sway among opinion formers here. In fact, it's really one idea, with two sides, but both of them wrong.

First, there is the local cultural embarrassment about Belfast as a backward regional backwater which can't hope to bear comparison with Dublin or London and which shouldn't make us all cringe by making the effort, the emotional counterpart of which is Daniel O'Donnell appearing on Wogan.

On the other hand, blatant evidence that the city, east to west, is precisely taking its place as a thriving Irish, British and European city, gives rise to a sullen confused resentment in some quarters, like the mixed responses to Rory plumping for Ireland rather than the UK in the Olympics, but somehow still being "Northern Irish".

It's all childish and a bit dense, of course, but Harington is simply echoing the corrosive self-deprecation which too often characterises this place and which isn't even a tiny bit charming.

The brute reality is - anything which puts the words "Belfast" and "Game of Thrones" into the same sentence, repeatedly, on a showpiece such as Late Night with Seth Myers, is a good thing. A very good thing, in fact. Moreover, Myers's prompt that Belfast, as locations go, isn't either Croatia or Spain, will only have boosted the city's accessibility as an English-speaking destination for the thousands of GoT fans who have already been making their way to NI.

The Thrones team have had a tough time from local media. Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson et al have, happily without comment, busily characterised Belfast as the haunt of a psychopathic (and miraculously uncatchable) torturer and serial killer of young ladies - unnervingly close to the city's historic Unique Selling Point of the Troubles.

Meanwhile, lofty HBO executive Michael Lombardo last year found himself actually having to apologise for off-the-cuff remarks that "Belfast is not the most cosmopolitan of cities to spend half of the year", even as his vast machine for making money continued to pump it into the local economy and provide a showcase for other production companies considering the option of accessing the creative skills on offer here.

Today, at this minute, in the world's media, Belfast isn't the Europa or even the Titanic - it's Game of Thrones and the US Masters.

Let's do everything we can to keep it that way, coast to coast, sea to shining sea.

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