Monday 21 October 2019

There’s more to love than hate in this new crime drama

 

Sporting dreams: Dane Whyte O’Hara as Damien in Darklands
Sporting dreams: Dane Whyte O’Hara as Damien in Darklands

John Boland

Based on the acclaimed novels of Tana French, Dublin Murders arrives on RTÉ1 and BBC1 screens next week to considerable advance fanfare, but in the meantime another Irish crime drama, Darklands (Virgin One), has slipped into the schedules without any hype.

That was the case, too, with last autumn's Blood, which was also a Virgin Media production. Written by Sophie Petzal, directed by Lisa Mulcahy and with impressive playing by Carolina Main and Adrian Dunbar, this was an impressive slow burner that was as thoughtful as it was intriguing.

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Thoughtfulness was in evidence, too, in the opening episode of Darklands, directed and co-written by Mark O'Connor, and opting for Bray as its locale rather than the inner city of Dublin. That apparently was the original setting but the makers felt it might have invited invidious and unwarranted comparisons with Love/Hate.

Yet while not everyone in Bray will welcome their charming seaside resort being used as the setting for a story about rival drug gangs, there's no denying it provides an arresting backdrop to the action, with aerial shots of the seafront and its headland offering striking visuals.

Anyway, and unlike Love/Hate, the story so far has been more concerned with a family unwittingly caught up in a bad situation than with the violent thugs encroaching on their lives - specifically on the life of schoolboy Damien, an aspirant mixed martial arts fighter, whose sporting dreams look set to unravel when his dodgy brother falls foul of his drug associates.

Damien is played by Dane Whyte O'Hara, a young martial arts fighter himself, though quietly impressive in his first acting role. And there are other good performances, notably from Thommas Kane-Byrne and Judith Roddy as villainous siblings, even if the acting in some minor roles is decidedly ropey.

But the makers have taken the time for us to get to know the main characters and there was real flair in the filming of the martial arts sequence and of a car chase involving the gardaí, and overall this looks set to be a crime drama worth following.

Mind you, I also said that a few weeks back about the first instalment of The Capture (BBC1) and then promptly forgot about it, so that when I caught up with this week's final episode, I hadn't a clue what was going on beyond the fact that it had all been about surveillance skulduggery.

On the other hand, after writing enthusiastically last week about the first two episodes of Unbelievable (Netflix), I then binge-watched the remaining six episodes and thought it even better than I'd expected. Indeed, it's been one of the year's finest dramas, with Merritt Wever and Toni Collette outstanding as the two female cops who discover links between a series of seemingly unconnected rapes in Colorado and elsewhere and then identify the assailant.

It's a deeply satisfying series and with remarkable playing, too, from Kaitlyn Dever as the teenage victim whose story isn't believed until these two cops come along with their dogged pursuit of the truth.

And Mr Mercedes (RTÉ2), now halfway through its third season, is yet again shaping up to be one of the year's best dramas. David E Kelley and his writing colleagues haven't put a foot wrong in their adaptations of Stephen King's trilogy of novels, and in this third season, they've found a villainous duo almost as disturbing as Brady Hartsfield in the first two seasons.

And the playing of Brendan Gleeson, Justine Lupe, Breeda Wool and Holland Taylor makes you look forward each week to spending time in their company.

I can't say the same about Brendan Grace: Thanks for the Memories (RTÉ1). Having wondered last week how the film-makers would get two more hour-long instalments out of their touching tribute to the late comedian, this week's episode left me still wondering. And there's another hour to come.

In the opening episode of The Americas with Simon Reeve (BBC2), the boyish traveller was in Alaska, but he didn't find much that pleased him beyond the stunning landscapes. Destruction of natural resources, financial greed and poverty were all he discovered, and his dystopian mood didn't improve when he went into western Canada, where he encountered more of the same, along with racism, drug abuse and crimes against indigenous women.

And downtown Vancouver, in Simon's telling, was awash in an opioid epidemic, with homeless people huddling in doorways.

There must, you felt, be a lot more to the supposedly liberal and caring Canada than this, but if so Simon didn't find it.

The sitcom Motherland (BBC2) returned for a second season and a belated one at that, the first having premiered two years ago. And despite the critical raves for the initial series, the new season has been relegated to the graveyard shift of 11.15pm on a Monday.

A puzzling decision and I noted, too, the absence from the writing credits of Graham Linehan, who had been the original co-writer with Sharon Horgan - though his wife Helen Linehan, along with Horgan and Holly Walsh, does get a writing credit.

All of which is a preamble to saying that the antics of frazzled middle-class mum Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin) in her doomed bid to juggle work with child duties, continue to provide chuckles, with Diane Morgan still in fine sardonic form as couldn't-care-less Liz, and Paul Ready still trying to find acceptance as hopeless wannabe-feminist Kevin and still saying all the wrong things.

Yes, it remains quite a funny series, though perhaps not as funny as it should be given the talents involved.

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