Monday, 3 August 2009

Single-Handed, ITV1

I haven't posted for a while because I wanted my 100th post to be a reflective State of the Tom Nation address, 12 months after completing my MA.

Anyway, that plan has now gone out the window, and here's a review of Single-Handed that I wrote for Orange.

Focusing more specifically on the writing, Barry Simner's script was an excellent whodunnit. He rolled out a number of credible suspects who all belonged in the story, without any flashing arrows or clumsy giveaways.

Then, having led us down one path, he skillfully and logically guided us into a more complex story altogether (although the segue into the 'back story' was a bit deus ex machina).

And while I thought the final terrible situation in which Driscoll found himself was a bit contrived, the emotional wallop of the drama and the suffocating lack of a way out for him justified it.

Links:
Interview in the Daily Telegraph
ITV press pack (Word doc)

Single-Handed is a Sunday night series about a young copper in a rural area. Think you've seen that one before? OK, but this one's set in Ireland, so surely we can expect charming rogues and a bit of after-hours diddley-diddley-dee by the pub's open fire?

Not so much. When you discover that it's produced by the same team that created the award-winning gritfest The Vice, you begin to get more of an idea of where this series of three self-contained feature-length episodes is really coming from.

'Natural Justice', the grim but gripping first episode, introduces Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), a sergeant with the Irish police – the Gardai – who has returned to the remote area where he grew up after a period in Dublin. Isolated from his colleagues and back-up, he has to rely on his own judgement and resources to get the job done.

After a young Eastern European woman was found dead in an isolated caravan, it didn't take long for Driscoll's investigations to come up against a conspiracy of silence. (By the way, the actress who briefly played the unfortunate corpse shares a famous name, prompting The Guardian's listings to promise "a guest appearance by Martina Navratilova".)

Anyway, from what looked like an accidental death, things soon took on a more sinister atmosphere. Driscoll stumbled into a web of corruption that seemed to enmesh the whole community and had his father – and predecessor as local copper – at its heart. As he dug deeper, Jack uncovered dark deeds from the past and roused the opposition of powerful forces.

The programme was dominated by the stunning scenery of the remote Connemara region of County Galway, but the local tourist board are unlikely to use any of these shots in their next advertising campaign. While magnificent, the landscape is oppressive and unforgiving, matching the tone of the programme and highlighting the isolation of the small local community.

Single-Handed moves slowly and doesn't make for easy viewing, but the first episode rolled out its secrets in a masterly way, leading to a series of terrible discoveries and an impossible position for Driscoll. This is compelling stuff that puts aside the clich├ęs to present a bleak but convincing picture of Irish rural life.

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