TV review: Single-Handed

Single-Handed (2007) is an Irish TV drama series consisting of three one-and-a-half-hour films. I was given the DVD as a Christmas present by someone who had never heard of it before – neither had I – but the quote on the cover “The most impressive non-American policier in years” (Time Out) gave the purchaser reason to think that I might like it.

And very good it is, too. Each of the three films tells a different crime story, but are linked by the character of Garda Sergeant Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), who has abruptly left his job in Dublin and transferred to the remote, small town in Connemara where he grew up. Jack’s father was the Garda sergeant there for years, but has recently retired and has in some way swung the job for Jack. The younger man is very much under his father’s thumb, therefore, enduring his network of “good old boys” who may or may not be stretching their interpretation of the law a bit too far. Jack has his work cut out to establish his niche and gain the respect of the community. The first two films have a strong theme of Jack’s conflicted feelings about his father, both on a personal level and about the extent to which he may have been corrupt.

As crime stories, the plots are solid and resist cliché. In the first film, the body of a young woman is discovered in a caravan. It turns out that she was from eastern Europe, and only Jack seems to care enough to find out her identity and what happened to her. The second film is about a young mother whose two-year-old baby is abducted. Everyone assumes the boy’s father is responsible, but Jack’s discoveries begin to point to other, darker possibilities – while his father is giving evidence at a tribunal investigating the possibility of past false confessions and other aspects of police wrong-doing. In the final film, Jack tries to rescue a drowning man, eventually becoming tied up in a drug-smuggling ring.

I liked these films because they avoid all the usual TV stereotypes of car chases, heroics and so on. There are shades of grey in almost all the characters – hardly anybody is a hero or a villain, and the pressures they come under are well-depicted, whether or not they are driven to contemplate criminal activity. The scenery is beautiful – as are Jack’s girlfriends (the exception to the lack of cliché is that Jack has a new one for each film). Jack himself is no slouch in the looks department, either.

I highly recommend these films for crime-fiction enthusiasts who want to watch something that is not bogged down by formula. I found them a perfect mix of thought-provoking plots, interesting major and minor characters, strong atmosphere and sense of place – all in all, the stories are unsentimentally dark and yet entertaining. A second series was made and first shown in November/December 2010; I’ll be looking out for it when it comes out on DVD in April.

Single-Handed series 1 was written by Barry Simner and directed by Colm McCarthy.

Single-Handed at Wikipedia, including links to various reviews and articles about the series.

Single-Handed series 1 at Amazon UK.