RTE may find crime really does pay
Father & Son (RTE1)
Questions and Answers (RTE1)
It's probably unwise to over-praise a new drama series on the strength of just one episode. How many times have we seen something start brilliantly only to collapse into a heap before the final hurdle?
That said, Father & Son, a four-part co-production from RTE and ITV, written by Irishman Frank Deasy, got off to a blisteringly good start and gripped like wet rope. Most crime dramas these days seem to come with demented serial killers, piles of forensic pyrotechnics and a quirky, ultra-clever detective as standard ingredients.
Father & Son, set in Manchester and Dublin, but with the latter doing a convincing job of portraying both cities, has none of these elements. It's a proper, tough, gritty thriller of the kind television doesn't make enough of any more.
If it reminds you of anything, it's of the kind of stuff writers such as Trevor Preston and the Kennedy Martin brothers, Troy and Ian, used to turn out for ITV in the 70s and early-80s, but with an added edge of social realism.
The excellent Dougray Scott convincingly plays Michael O'Connor, a former criminal hardman in Manchester who has been out of prison for a year and is quietly building a new life in Wicklow with his girlfriend Anna (Flora Montgomery), who's about to give birth to their child.
But Michael, a widower who turned his back on his old life after his wife was murdered, has another child: a teenage son called Sean (Reece Noi), who lives back in Manchester with Michael's sister-in-law Connie (Sophie Okonedo), who happens to be a policewoman.
In the space of an electrifying opening 10 minutes, Sean and his girlfriend Stacey (Wunmi Mosaku) witness a friend of theirs, who is involved in the city's gang wars and packing a gun, being gunned down by rival teenage gang members. Sean unmasks one of them as a kid he used to know at school.
The pair flee the scene but later pursue Sean and Stacey to hospital, and try to kill them as well. The vampish, manipulative Stacey, who pocketed the gun their friend had been carrying, uses it on the killer but Sean, anxious not to be seen as a wimp, lets her pin the rap on him. When the other kid dies, he faces a murder charge.
Michael returns to Manchester to help his son, and thus we have the classic crime story set-up of the bad guy gone good being pulled back into the old world he's tried to leave behind.
Throw in Ian Hart as a vengeful cop (and Connie's boss), Terence Maynard as an old associate of Michael's with an agenda of his own to fulfil, and Stephen Rea as a menacing former IRA man with who Michael once did some gun-running, and what you have here is the makings of a top-notch thriller. If the next three courses are as good as the starter, this should be something to really get your teeth into.
"The past is another country in Ireland," said Pat Rabbitte on the very last Questions and Answers. Maybe so, but it was interesting to note the sheer number of young political faces in old clips who are now old faces, and still hanging around like a bad smell. Goodbye to all that.
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Questions and Answers * *