It will have been a fairly easy choice for ITV, you’d imagine. Do they adapt the popular New York Times bestselling debut novel by one of television’s most popular faces, the BAFTA award-winning presenter and comedian Graham Norton? Yes or no? With a tried and tested story about a small picturesque town that’s rocked by a mysterious murder, it must’ve been a decision that took all of four seconds to make.
So the general plot of the new four-part series isn’t the most wonderfully unique or original idea in the world. We’ve seen the set-up before plenty of times. What we haven’t quite seen is the tone. Directed by actress and comedian Kathy Burke, Holding is neither drama nor comedy. It doesn’t even really feel like a ‘comedy-drama’. It’s amusing in places, but the laughs are entirely organic. Punchlines aren’t squeezed out of the story. And that’s to the series’ credit.
If this was an Irish tea cake, it’d be a pretty tasty affair, albeit one with some familiar flavours. You can taste a little Vera, Midsomer Murders and McDonald and Dodds in there. Keep nibbling and there’s definitely a little hint of Father Ted mixed in too.
At its heart, this is a murder mystery. Anyone who’s read Norton’s 2016 novel will remember how good it was, so expectations are at a certain level. Thankfully there’s nothing here in this opener to suggest that fans of the source material will be left disappointed.
Our ‘hero’ is Sergeant PJ Collins (Conleth Hill, Game of Thrones, Dublin Murders). A pudgy, quiet and amiable man, he’s Garda, but holds no dreams of cracking any big cases. In fact, at the mere sight of work, he retreats into his shell, usually to hide and eat mittfuls of bread in his car. He’s a sweet chap, but not the sharpest. Hopefully we’ll see the man emerge as a real detective and crack the case – instead of keep falling asleep eating cheese slices.
Early on here, Collins is shaken from his career slumber when a skeleton is uncovered on a local farm. The small town of Duneen is a close-knit community, so word spreads fast. Everyone seems to think the bones belong to one Tommy Burke, a local lothario who vanished two decades ago. Tommy’s two lovers of the time, Evelyn Ross (Charlene McKenna, Bloodlands) and Brid Reardon (Derry Girls‘ Siobhán McSweeney), become instant suspects.
Largely thanks to Norton’s influence and the Irish cast, crew and filming locations, Holding comes across as authentically Irish, not trying-to-be-Irish. So we swerve clichés and stereotypes and instead hit a genuine feel of County Cork, with the kind of characters you might expect to meet there. You’d have to imagine that with the scenic views on offer over the next five Monday nights, Holding won’t do the southernmost tip of Ireland’s tourism any harm at all, either.
So far this is reassuring, witty and pleasing TV. Like throwing a warm blanket over yourself on a chilly spring evening. Even if it is about, y’know, murder. So quite what that says about us all as viewers, we dread to think.
Did you tune in for Holding episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on Holding episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
There’s something quite odd about Holding. Actually, there are a few quite odd things about it. Despite ITV1’s new Monday evening crime offering being quite familiar in many ways, it’s strangely different at the same time.
The set-up is one we’ve seen a hundred times. A quiet town is rocked by the discovery of a body, the local police team up with a big city detective to work out which of the range of guilty-ish looking local characters did it and why. We uncover secrets and lies for a few weeks until a killer is unmasked and led away in ‘cuffs.
Anyone familiar with the bestselling book that this four-parter is based on will know not to expect a generic crime drama, though. Graham Norton (yes, that one) infused plenty of humour and eccentricity into his page turner. And it comes through here in the TV adaptation directed by Kathy Burke (yes, that one).
What we’re served up is a slightly odd fish, really. The tone is quite unusual. At times, it’s a gentle Midsomer Murders-style affair, at others it’s a Derry Girls-esque romp. In this second part, the plot moved at the kind of pace that would make a glacier look like a giant icy cheetah.
Alright, so what would you expect? This is West Cork, not Manhattan. But still, it just takes a little getting used to. As does the sometimes uneasy mixture of quirky characters, offbeat humour and straightforward, almost generic plot.
So what happened in the most recent instalment? Well, not much, to be honest.
At the end of the hour, we were treated to a little bit of actual murder plot. The DNA testing had come back from Dublin and the bones of Tommy Burke, well, they aren’t Tommy Burke’s. It looks as if he really might’ve schlepped off to London and still be alive. So as of next week, Garda man PJ (Conleth Hill) has even more police work to do to discover whose skeleton it was.
That’s not to say that nothing happened here, because it did. Just nothing to propel the main story forward. We can’t be too upset, mind. This is a character piece more than anything. And we learned a few things about some of the players here. DI Dunne came out to Aiofe, Mrs Meaney is harassing Bríd and Evelyn is more vulnerable than she lets on. Really, though, this second part was all about Bríd O’Riordan.
Siobhán McSweeney is the best thing about Holding. The Derry Girls actress has immense comic timing, we know that. But here she shows off her acting chops too. In her very sweet burgeoning romance with the Tayto-scoffing PJ, she absolutely shines.
The standout scene from this Monday’s Holding came in the shape of its tender and pleasingly realistic sex scene between the two. There was a naturalness to the ‘real people’ making love, complete with awkward jokes about body hair and a clumsy taking-your-glasses-off moment that you never really see represented on screen.
PJ is still something of an enigma, though. We know he’s well meaning, sweet, a bit daft and has something of a shame-based eating disorder. We also sense he may be a good cop underneath it all. What we don’t really know as yet is why he is who he is. Hopefully we’ll see his character explored in some depth in the next two weeks. It’d be a shame to get someone as great as Game of Thrones’ Conleth Hill to head up the cast and underwrite his role a wee bit.
Okay, so the tone’s a little unusual and the pacing’s slow, but there are more than enough indicators that by the end of this run, we’ll be fans of this series and applauding its bravery and idiosyncrasies. After all, what’s wrong with being a bit odd…?
Did you tune in for Holding episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Still catching up on Holding episode 3? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
If you thought that ITV’s Holding was just an incidental little mood piece and character study with little to no interest in its own plot (and we kind of did…), this third episode is here to prove us wrong.
Last Monday’s showing ramped up the romance but toned down the murder plot somewhat. As things between PJ and Bríd got a little hot, the trail of who killed Tommy Burke went stone cold. In fact, we learned it wasn’t even Tommy Burke’s skeleton at all in all that dirt.
This third part picked up a few weeks later as the good – and not so good – folk of Duneen in West Cork are starting to return to normal. Just as they are though, more bones are discovered in the ground. This time they’re tiny and nestled in a wicker basket. They’re the remains of a baby.
Given we’re in rural Ireland and a historic baby burial has come up, you’d be forgiven for assuming an out of wedlock/underage pregnancy and abortion storyline was coming our way. It wasn’t, though. The truth turned out to be a little more unexpected than that.
In a powerful monologue that’s easily the series’ finest moment so far, Mrs Meaney tells Linus and PJ a long-winded but emotionally-charged story that blows the case wide open…
The power of this outstanding scene comes from its simplicity and its wonderful delivery from the great Brenda Fricker, who won an Academy Award for her work on My Left Foot. She sits the two Garda down at her breakfast table and tells them a rambling story about her Irish dancing days as a teenager. Soon, however, the story takes a dark turn as she opens up about being raped and falling pregnant.
The Burkes took her in, she says, gave her a job and – eventually – raised her baby at her request. They did so after their own child lost hers at birth, accounting for the recently-discovered bones.
Mrs Meaney’s child would grow up to be Tommy Burke. Which explains why the DNA test didn’t match Burke to his parents – they didn’t have the same DNA.
PJ asks ‘Meany Meaney’ why she wrote the abusive letter to Bríd, with his former housekeeper revealing that the note was actually meant for Bríd’s mother Kitty, who she knows was harassing Tommy over the farm and his relationship with her daughter. Could Kitty have been behind his death? Well, if she is, she won’t see justice as she passed away in her bed at the end of Monday night’s penultimate instalment of Holding.
With a full 25% of the series left to air, we’re not going to believe that Evelyn Ross killed Tommy either, are we? Even if she was arrested here in the final scenes after PJ and Linus discover she may very well have been the last person to see him alive.
There’ll be another explanation for his death, surely. Or at least another killer. As young Stephen points out here at Kitty’s wake, it’s time for an answer because the village needs to move on and stop living the same day from 20 years ago over and over again.
Four parts might not be quite enough to have fully explored and resolved all of the various other plots here, but we’re sure that next week’s climax will tie most of the main threads up in a neat little bow.
Did you tune in for Holding episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…
Some spoilers for Holding episode 4 below. Still catching up? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
Last week’s episode of Holding saw an outstanding monologue from Brenda Fricker. Given space to relax and work in, her character’s admission to being dead man Tommy Burke’s mother and her revelation of how she was raped as a young woman was mesmerising. Here, in this conclusion, we were treated to another stirring scene of equal power.
Having worked out who the killer of Tommy Burke was, there was a powerful and touching scene between Helen Behan’s Abigail Ross and Conleth Hill’s Garda man PJ – one where the two characters shared deep secrets and truths, opening up about what had happened to them, what they’d done and why they were like they were. It’s in these simple scenes that the series more than proved its worth.
The biggest payoff here in this fourth and final episode came in seeing the development and character arc of our loveable antihero, Sergeant PJ Collins. In front of our very eyes, he’s gone from dopey work shirker to portly Sherlock Holmes. He always had it in him to be a good policeman, but a crippling lack of confidence had always held him back. Here we discovered the root of his issues and watched him break free.
We’ll spare you the finer details of the climax and big reveal in case any of you are yet to catch this final piece of the puzzle – suffice to say that it’s a satisfying conclusion to the story and a believable tying up of the various loose ends and ribbons.
Despite his cracking of the case, it’s not all a bed of roses for our PJ. He rather bravely makes his feelings towards Bríd known, but she rather pragmatically turns down his advances. He shuffles away to scream his frustrations into the void once more, but doesn’t fall back into the binge eating of cheese slices and hamburger buns (we find out why those are his foods of choice here too). Instead, he faces his fears and swims in the sea. The very same one he pulled his drowned father out from so many years ago.
The creators executed Holding well. The tone was a little unusual and took some getting used to, but it walked the tightrope smartly. It told a strong story with quirky – but not distracting – characters. It was engaging and believable, all while being organically funny.
At no point did it veer into caricature, pantomime or parody. It told a small town story while never patronising the area or people. And, crucially, it never dragged. Six episodes would have been too many. Four meant that the series was perfectly paced.
Holding’s title – we assume – comes from the idea of holding onto the past and the damage that can do. The sleepy County Cork town of Duneen was guilty of living in a form of stasis after the events of 20 years ago; the collective shock, guilt and trauma putting the brakes on everything and everyone. With PJ’s solving of the case, it seems like they can all move on with their lives.
We can too, albeit it’s a future unlikely to contain anymore Holding. Not through lack of enthusiasm, more just a lack of source material. Graham Norton only wrote the one PJ Collins book. So unless writers Karen Cogan and Dominic Treadwell-Collins are approached by ITV to come up with a sequel, we’ll bid a fond ‘Slán!’ to Duneen and let go ourselves.
Did you tune in for Holding episode 4? What did you think of the series? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…