Irish television drama has, on balance, done better than you might think in Britain, considering how little of it we make in any given year.
hannel 5 showed the first season of Love/Hate in 2013 to positive reviews (The Guardian newspaper was a notable champion) and decent viewing figures of 750,000, which is at the higher end of 5’s audience share, and is set to air season 2 soon.
RTE’s 1980 adaptation of James Plunkett’s Dublin epic Strumpet City, which remains the national broadcaster’s most ambitious and, when adjusted for inflation, expensive drama production, was shown on all but one of the ITV regions in 1981 and on Channel 4 in 1984.
All three series of Bracken (1978-82), Wesley Burrowes’ less soapy spin-off from The Riordans starring a pre-Hollywood Gabriel Byrne and Niall Toibin, went out on a number of ITV network stations in the afternoons. Bracken’s own later spin-off, Glenroe, also ran on the ITV regions in an afternoon slot.
But with the exception of Love/Hate, whose superior second season is sure to leave an even bigger impression in the UK than the choppy first, none of the above made anything like the same splash they made here.
It’s easy to envisage a much different reception should TG4’s new bilingual five-part thriller An Bronntanas (The Gift), which begins tonight, be sold to the UK. If ever a series had the potential to fit snugly into BBC4’s Saturday night imported drama slot then this is it.
An Bronntanas, a slick, fast-paced and gripping slice of Connemara noir directed and co-written by Tom Collins, who made the award-winning film Kings, has everything the BBC4 audience could want: murder, mystery, betrayal, corruption, guns, drugs, double-crosses, plenty of exotic (for UK viewers) local flavour and, of course, subtitles.
It also has something neither BBC4’s imports nor any other Irish drama has: a bona fide Hollywood star, John Finn.
Okay, so maybe the name doesn’t immediately set bells ringing, but the face surely will. Finn, an American character actor of Irish ancestry (he learned the lingo for his role as local Garda sergeant Seán Óg Greene), was one of the co-leads in Cold Case and has appeared in countless TV series and movies.
We don’t get to see much of Finn in the first episode – or indeed any at all of the always excellent Owen McDonnell, who turns up in episode 2 – but there’s plenty more to be going on with.
JJ Magill (Dara Devaney) is summoned from Canada to his hometown on the Connemara coast for the funeral of his father, with whom he didn’t get on. Nonetheless, JJ’s mother (Charlotte Bradley) insists he stick around to run the family fish processing factory, over the objections of his older brother Macdara (Pól Ó Gríofa), a feckless waster who’s up to his neck in debt to some unsavoury types.
Unfortunately, the family business is on the brink of collapse. An answer to JJ’s prayers – or more likely the prelude to his nightmare – turns up when he, his brother and another member of the volunteer lifeboat team, the shady Jakub (Janusz Sheagall), answer a distress call from a fishing boat called The Gift.
They find a bag containing a million euro in drugs on board, along with a sole passenger: a dead woman with a slash hook protruding from her gut.
Do they do the decent thing and report what they’ve found to the gardaí, or do they keep the drugs, abandon the boat and the dead woman, and split the proceeds from the sale three ways?
Now what do you think? Great stuff.
An Bronntanas begins on TG4 at 9.30pm tonight