A couple of years ago, I happened to read Graham Norton’s third novel Home Stretch. Rather patronisingly, perhaps, I was surprised by how accomplished it was, especially in its sympathetic but melancholy portrait of life in a West Cork village. Yet, judging from ITV’s new adaptation of his first novel Holding, this was something he’d pulled off before – because, here again, it’s pretty clear both why Norton would want to write kindly about the kind of place he grew up in, and why he would have wanted to leave it.
Monday’s first episode efficiently established the rural-Irish setting with shots of fields, cows and wind turbines. We then saw the village policeman P.J. Collins (Conleth Hill) called away from a breakfast of sausages fried in about half a pound of butter following an emergency phone call – the emergency in question being that somebody had painted their house in a colour the village busybody didn’t approve of. ‘It’s just not a crime, Mrs O’Driscoll,’ he explained gently, to her undiminished fury.
The next scene was half-funny and half-sad too, as a Mrs Riordan tried to get her children ready for school (‘Carmel, take that bucket off your head’) while also wrestling a bottle of whisky and a cigarette from her acid-tongued old mother. And with that, we cut to three lonely, orphaned adult sisters in a nearby farm where one was planning an escape to San Francisco that became increasingly unlikely.
But before long – and to his obvious unease – P.J. was faced with a real crime. Builders demolishing a deserted farmhouse had come across the remains of Tommy Burke, who 20 years before had left the future Mrs Riordan (Siobhan McSweeney) waiting at the altar on their wedding day – mainly, it would now seem, because he’d just been murdered. Then again, maybe the marriage wouldn’t have been a great success anyway, given that at the time he was also having an affair with Evelyn (Charlene McKenna), the most glamorous of the orphaned sisters.
The two women reacted to the discovery of their beau’s bones in different ways: Mrs R., by tucking needfully into several bottles of wine and being denounced by her husband as ‘a joke that isn’t funny anymore’; Evelyn, by briskly seducing a hunky 17-year-old. Meanwhile, P.J. was being ferociously condescended to by the city copper who’d arrived to investigate the murder – even though, of course, the snooty big shot had no idea how village life works.
And so far that’s about it. In other words, any viewers after a high-powered, fast-paced whodunit should probably look elsewhere. Like the script, Kathy Burke’s direction is distinctly unhurried – but, like the script too, it’s none the worse for that. Instead, by prizing the carefully delineated setting over the fairly conventional crime stuff, Holding feels like a show wisely playing to its considerable strengths.
In the first instalment of Joanna Lumley’s Great Cities of the World, the ever-girlish Joanna pitched up in Paris, where she pretended that her lifelong dream was to be mistaken for a Frenchwoman. To this apparent end, she scattered some random French words into her breathy commentary. She also took advice on how to attract a Parisian man when ‘you’re longing to fall in love’ and ‘think that he’s divine’ from a French comedian heroically unafraid to promote national stereotypes. (‘You need to be rude,’ he told her. ‘If you smile, they’ll think you’re weird.’)
Not surprisingly, though, Joanna’s plan to pass as French never really got off the ground. Even by her standards, in fact, hockey sticks can rarely have been jollier, as she cranked her politely insincere, well-bred English gushing into somewhat alarming overdrive.
Almost every sight was greeted with a thrilled cry of ‘Look at that! – or, by way of cunning variation, ‘Look at this!’ (And when all else failed there was always her trusty standby of ‘Gosh!’) The Montgolfiers’ hot-air balloon flight was ‘passionate, bold, defiant: everything I adore about the Parisian spirit’ – while even some fairly standard break-dancing earned squeals of delight for ‘continuing Paris’s longstanding tradition of artistic freedom and expression’.
No wonder that some of those gushed over appeared a little disconcerted by the experience. A group of feminists, for example, didn’t seem entirely chuffed to have their heartfelt demonstration for social justice described as ‘one of the most satisfying ways of letting off steam’.
Still, there was one gushee who didn’t seem to mind a bit. Daphne Guinness, the model and socialite, showed up for lunch with Joanna wearing six-inch platforms, overlong shirtsleeves, oversized jewellery and a two-coloured hairdo of impressive (if faintly ridiculous) complexity. ‘You’ve always been dazzlingly beautiful,’ Joanna told her as an opening gambit, ‘you’re just made of beauty and gorgeousness’ – remarks that Daphne acknowledged with a modest nod of the head as no more than her due.
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