Talk about contrasts! Irish humor is among the most raucous and contagious on the planet; concurrently, their tragedies are the epoch of stark, bleak poetry. Forget about the former, ‘cause you ain’t seeing any of that here! Two first-rate examples of the latter, however, SINGLE-HANDED: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION and BLOOD, are now on view from the clans at Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Banijay Rights/Touchpaper/RTE/Virgin Media Television/Element Pictures/All3Media International. Both center around the negative influence of a thoroughly disreputable patriarch. Each contains brilliant writing, acting, photography, and direction. WARNING: they make Broadchurch look like Are You Being Served?
SINGLE-HANDED began as a two-part Irish made-for-TV feature in 2007. Critical acclaim and large viewership guaranteed a sequel. By 2010, there were five sequels – a harrowing dramatic dissection of the Driscoll family, particularly bad parenting’s devastating effect upon protagonist Jack. He’s essentially a good guy, so the cards are immediately stacked against him.
Jack is smart, rising young officer in the Irish Garda (the police); much to his chagrin, his deserved promotion to sergeant has a caveat: he is transferred back to Connemara, the hated picturesque village of his birth. Following in the position previously held by his dad (or Dadai, in Gaelic), Driscoll morally excels as he is the one NOT seething with corruption. Gerry, Jack’s terrible retired father, still holds a firm grip on “his” town, including likewise retired cronies/associates, who now run illegal businesses behind the deceptive fronts of taverns, country clubs and real estate developments.
There are no coincidences as Driscoll soon discovers, and his transfer was part of an unofficial plot to keep the family concern going. His refusal to do so causes an eruption of corruption among his thieving coworkers (yeah, cops), the locals, and, natch, his parents. Jack’s psychological damage, accrued through years of mental abuse, takes its toll, especially on his string of unsuccessful love affairs with a number of smart women who valiantly fail to bring him out of the darkness.
Even’s his pater’s death (in a car accident) halfway through the saga doesn’t lighten the load, as the deceased’s influence permeates the remainder of the episodes.
A sliver of light comes when he finally meets Gemma (Simone Lahbib), the woman of his dreams; only prob is that she’s the live-in girlfriend of his long-lost cousin Brian (Matthew McNulty), another abused family member living in the shadows of a weak father (the great Stephen Rea) ruined by Jack’s dad. If Driscoll manages to fight his inner demons and make a go of it with Gemma, then all he’ll have to contend with are his dad’s ex-mates, who run the vicinity’s drug cartels and teen prostitution rings. Great life, eh?
As indicated, SINGLE-HANDED is wonderfully acted, scripted (Barry Simmer, Rob Pursey, Colin Teevan, Clive Bradley), photographed (Darran Tiernan) and directed (Colm McCarthy, Anthony Byrne, Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and the unfortunately named Charlie McCarthy). A churning score by Niall Byrne appends the other expert credits. Lead Owen McDonnell must be singled out, but also Ian McElhinney (as his shady pop), Ruth McCabe (as his mum) David Herlihy, and Sean McGinley. Lahbib as the conflicted Gemma is terrific as well. The half-dozen feature-length mysteries, spanning between 2007-2010, are assembled on a 6-DVD set. You kinda want to know what happens after the final installment’s fade-out, but are sort of glad you don’t.
2018’s BLOOD tells of another ex-pat returning to family roots. Generally content Cat Hogan (Carolina Main), despite a slight drinking jones, braces herself to return to her small Irish village from London to attend her mother’s funeral. From there on, its life as she remembers it: pure shite!
Her domineering father Jim (lead Adrian Dunbar) rules over her gay brother Michael and icy sister Fiona with an iron fist (Fiona makes Mrs. Danvers look like Golda Meir). Jim Hogan is the village’s “beloved” doctor, and a pillar of the community. Not so hard a task for a conniver when said community is purgatory cloaked in a shamrock. Nevertheless, Cat prevails, as she loved her mum and brother (and tolerated the rest). But the grim reunion quickly takes a turn for the worse.
A little investigating leads Cat to believe that her terminally ill mother’s demise (drowning in their family pond) wasn’t normal. In fact, it was murder – and likely committed by her father. The revelation that her remaining parent is carrying on with his young receptionist adds fuel to the fire that uncovers a labyrinth of secrets, lies, blackmail, suicide and pedophilia.
Cat’s attempts to escape are tantamount to one of those horror movies where people are trapped in a cursed environ that functions as a portal to hell. There’s a mass conspiracy involving the local constabulary, Cat’s childhood friend, and even her trusted brother; it’s a bad dream she desperately wants to wake up from.
BLOOD is chillingly written (by series creator Sophia Petzal), directed (Lisa Mulcahy, Hannah Quinn), and marvelously performed by a fantastic cast, specifically the aforementioned Dunbar and Main (as father and daughter Hogans), plus Diarmuid Noyes (as Michael), Gainne Keenan (as Fiona), and Ingrid Craigie, Fiona Bell, Sean Duggan, Mark O’Regan, and Cillian O’Gairbhi. The 1080p widescreen photography by Kate McCullough) is contradictory – natural beauty hiding a festering evil. A tingling score by Ray Harman helps set the unnerving mood.
The Acorn six-episode two-Blu-Ray set looks and sounds great. Like the SINGLE-HANDED DVDs, the collection is housed in a slipcover. Unlike the former, BLOOD contains interviews with cast and crew and a behind-the-scenes featurette. If you’re into sinister, tense thrillers with an extra dose of creepy, BLOOD should send your pulse pounding.
SINGLE-HANDED: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 5.1 stereo-surround. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Banijay Rights/Touchpaper/RTE. CAT # AMP-2701. SRP: $64.95.
BLOOD. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/Virgin Media Television/Element Pictures/All3Media. CAT # AMP-2715. SRP: $39.95.