Gripping new TV drama set in Wicklow enjoys brilliant opening
THE OPENING EPISODE OF VIRGIN ONE’S GRITTY NEW CRIME SERIES SET IN BRAY LEAVES VIEWERS WANTING MORE, WRITES MARY FOGARTY
THE first episode of ‘Darklands’ aired last Monday night on Virgin One, with Bray one of the stars of the new drama, and looking spectacular on-screen.
While recognising most of the locations was something of a distraction, the opening episode left viewers wanting to know more, and rooting for its young protagonist from ‘The Hill’, Damien Dunne.
Sweeping wide shots of Bray Head and the seafront showed Bray in its best light, even with some of the series exploring the darker sides of life.
The first scenes introduced us to aspiring MMA star Damien, who is keeping is head down and training hard. His brother Wesley, on the other hand, is involved with a gang, much to the chagrin of their father.
Within moments of the opening credits, Damien’s little sister is pointing a gun at him, the weapon left lying around by a careless Wes.
‘What essentially happens to Damien is, he is on this trajectory to become a professional fighter, which is an absolute dream, but he keeps getting drawn down another path,’ said executive producer Ruth Coady.
Some of the other characters we met in the first episode include gang boss Bernie, her brother Butsy, and tough-asnails Donna, who is one of the younger gang members and a friend of Damien’s.
Damien, meanwhile, enters Romeo-and-Juliet territory, as he dates Nicola, the sister of members of a rival gang and an aspiring artist, as much full of hope and promise as her boyfriend.
We suspect the star-crossed lovers will face much adversity before the end of season one of Darklands.
‘One of the interesting things about this show is it is full of a lot of new faces,’ said Coady, who has high hopes for the leading man.
Dane Whyte O’Hara, who plays the main character, is an MMA fighter, but has never acted before. ‘We think Dane is extraordinary,’ said Ms Coady. ‘We went through an enormous and rigorous casting process all over the country. Dane is the unicorn we thought we would never find. I think he’s probably going to be a huge star.’
Damien’s journey will be the spine of the show. It’s an emotional and hopeful journey, navigating the road he finds himself on. He has to become a man, make decisions, and do things he doesn’t want to do.
Writers Mark O’Connor and Adam Coates wanted to make a show about kids in circumstances where they lose control over what they get to do.
The programme was in part inspired by an experience that Adam Coates had.
His brother was Shane Coates, who was the leader of the Westies gang. Shane was missing for two years before being found dead in 2006.
‘Because we have gone so far from that story in terms of character and detail, it’s not based on that,’ said Coady.
Thommas Kane-Byrne, who plays Butsy, couldn’t be more different in temperament to
the man he portrays on-screen. Friendly, chatty, and with a voice about an octave higher than that of his altar-ego, the actor uses voice exercises and posture as part of his tool-kit to get into character. He’s therefore as convincing a bad guy as they come.
On Monday night, we saw him at the centre of a gang operation involving the shipment of heroin to Ireland, via the harbour in Bray.
‘Butsy is this really ambitious, volatile young “career man”, for want of a better phrase. It might be illegal, but it’s still a career to him,’ said Thommas. ‘There are two feuding sides on the Bray patch. He is not content and wants it all.
‘He’s a king ping, but the only time his status dwindles is when his sister Bernie is around. She is really the king pin.
‘The whole story is being told through the eyes of a 16-yearold boy, yet this is a predominantly adult world – it’s really interesting and fresh.’
Thommas is a native of Sean McDermott Street in Dublin’s north inner city. ‘There’s actually not a lot of gang activity visible in Dublin 1,’ he said. ‘There’s a great deal of sensationalism in the media.’
He said that resources for young people in the city are phenomenal, with everything from youth clubs to stage schools.
‘Children on the outskirts maybe don’t have as much.
‘We have to stop using words like cartel and start saying family, stop saying monster and start saying man,’ he said, ‘and realise an entire family hasn’t committed a crime, a person has. Sensationalism is making people easy to kill and easier to forget.’
With just one episode in, Darklands appears to have avoided excessive sensationalism thus far. While some characters are indeed involved in criminal activity, others are not, and trying to pave their way in life. The setting being Bray simply indicates that this could actually happen anywhere, not just in big cities.
Lorna Meade was one of the characters to make a brief appearance, and a big impression, in Monday night’s Darklands.
Although not on-screen for as long as others, Lorna practically stole the show. She is one of Butsy’s gang members.
‘She’s bad from the start,’ said Lorna. ‘If they step out of line, I definitely say something. They’re all a little bit scared of me, I’d be the one telling them what to do.’
Donna is no gangster’s moll, she is full-on gangster, and throws the punches to prove it.
She is very much top of the pecking order among the younger members of the group. ‘I was glad when I saw the script that I’m not wheeling a buggy or something,’ said Lorna. Unlike Damien, who is trying to stay away from a life of crime, Lorna has no such misgivings.
‘She’s definitely the boss,’ said Ryan Burke, who plays Damien’s best friend Keith Sheridan. Keith is an aspiring gangster and something of a devil on Damien’s shoulder.
While the script doesn’t name the estates, much of the action is set in Fassaroe and Oldcourt, with other scenes shot at the harbour, Strand Road, and other locations. Our first sight of Bernie is at Newcastle Airfield, where she has landed in a small aircraft with a Liverpudlian supplier set to make her rich.
A most impressive fight scene was filmed outside Bray, at the Sallynoggin Inn, and there will be some scenes in the coming weeks which were filmed in the Fishing Club.
The accents are certainly more Dublin than Bray, and the gang’s approach to collecting drugs at the harbour was pretty conspicuous. But let’s agree to suspend disbelief, and sit back and enjoy as the story unfolds over the coming weeks.
DAMIEN IS ON THIS TRAJECTORY TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL FIGHTER BUT HE KEEPS GETTING DRAWN DOWN ANOTHER PATH BUTSY IS THIS REALLY AMBITIOUS, VOLATILE YOUNG ‘CAREER’ MAN, FOR WANT OF A BETTER PHRASE. IT MIGHT BE ILLEGAL, BUT IT’S STILL A CAREER TO HIM... HE WANTS IT ALL
Thommas Kane-Byrne as Butsy.
Judith Roddy as Bernie.
Dane Whyte O’Hara as Damien Dunne in Darklands.