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.

12 thoughts on “TV review: Single-Handed

  1. This one passed me by Maxine. I have just started watching ‘Whitechapel’ which I am enjoying a lot but it does have a few cliches in it (the main detective seems to have OCD). ITV seem to be producing more crime programmes than the rest of the channels put together.

  2. I’d not heard of this either. How strange that such a lot of good stuff seems to pass us by. It sounds great, though – definitely one for the Lovefilm rental list.

  3. Yes, it was a nice change to watch a decent crime drama without resorting to subtitles😉 I don’t even bother starting the main UK channels’ offerings, they are so tedious and “plots by the numbers”.

  4. Hi, just to say I stumbled onto this series a wee while ago and, like you, I found it refreshingly un-clichéd and thought provoking. I also like how we get an unsentimental look at rural Ireland.

    I didn’t know there was as series 2, so will look out for that. Thanks again!

  5. Maxine – Thanks for this review. This is a series that I’m going to have to look for as it’s not readily available here and wasn’t shown here when it was originally aired.

  6. This looks like a good series, and I am interested in watching an Irish crime series, and I’ve never seen any series set in Ireland.
    Will try to find it somewhere and will keep my eyes open for a source over here.

  7. I can also recommend the (cinema-released) movie The Guard, with Brendan Gleeson. Witty script, beautiful scenery. Thoroughly enjoyable.

  8. Oh, this sounds good, Maxine. I’ve just joined I Love Film — well, for three months anyway, as part of a free subs because we bought a new smart TV — so I may well look this one up. Mr Irish Other Half will probably like this one too (his dad was in the guards).
    Glad you mentioned The Guard with Brendan Gleeson — it was one of a a handful of films I saw at the cinema last year and I loved it.

  9. I hope it reaches Canada or PBS in the U.S. With satellite T.V. I get hundreds of channels but it is a rare night to find a quality mystery.

  10. I agree, Bill, it is rare to be able to find a quality mystery, or film, even, despite all these packages.
    Kim and all – I don’t have Lovefilm but am interested in Netflix. At the moment we have a cable broadband/phone/TV package but although there are what seems like millions of channels there never seems anything to watch – most of the films seem to be horror or “teen”- The Guard was a welcome relief. Thanks to the BBC for showing good subtitlted dramas in that 9pm Saturday slot.

  11. Just catching up on your blog… saw this for the first time a couple of years ago while on holiday in Ireland and thought it was excellent. Glad to see you also enjoyed it, especially considering your level of knowledge of the genre!

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